Rural Health

Preventing Chronic Diseases and Promoting Health in Rural Communities

Chronic diseases are the leading causes of death and disability in America, and they affect some populations more than others. People who live in rural areas, for example, are more likely than urban residents to die prematurely from all of the five leading causes of death: heart disease, cancer, unintentional injury, chronic lower respiratory disease, and stroke. These rural health disparities have many causes:

  • Health Behaviors: Rural residents often have limited access to healthy foods and fewer opportunities to be physically active compared to their urban counterparts, which can lead to conditions such as obesity and high blood pressure. Rural residents also have higher rates of smoking, which increases the risk of many chronic diseases.
  • Health Care Access: Rural counties have fewer health care workers, specialists (such as cancer doctors), critical care units, emergency facilities, and transportation options. Residents are also more likely to be uninsured and to live farther away from health services.
  • Healthy Food Access: National and local studies suggest that residents of low-income, minority, and rural neighborhoods often have less access to supermarkets and healthy foods.
  • Demographic Characteristics: Residents of rural areas tend to be older, with lower incomes and less education than their urban counterparts. These factors are linked to poorer health.

Compared to urban areas, rural areas have:

no smoking icon
higher rates of unhealthy behaviors
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less access to health care
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less access to healthy foods
These factors contribute to higher rates of premature
death from the five leading causes of death.

About 46 million Americans—15% of the US population—live in rural areas. CDC’s National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion works to improve health in these areas by:

  • Measuring how many Americans have chronic diseases or chronic disease risk factors and reporting data down to the county level.
  • Studying and reporting on rural health disparities and innovative programs to reduce those disparities.
  • Funding and guiding states, territories, and tribes to reach rural populations through proven interventions and innovative programs.
  • Developing programs and promoting care through digital formats, such as online classes or “telehealth” approaches that reduce barriers to health care access for rural residents.

See the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion infographic to find out more about the center’s work to prevent chronic diseases.