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The Case for Rural Health

In 2017, CDC has issued the first reports in a year-long series on rural health in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. The series tackles many aspects of rural health. The data signal opportunities for improved public health programs that support healthier behaviors and neighborhoods, and better access to healthcare services. This information is helping CDC and our partners in state, local, and tribal communities understand the disparities between rural and urban populations.  Additional information on these disparities could increase targeted implementation of effective public health programs to improve the health of rural Americans.  

The latest science from CDC on rural health is summarized below.

Leading Causes of Death

Americans living in rural areas are more likely to die from five leading causes than their urban counterparts. In 2014, many deaths among rural Americans were potentially preventable, including 25,000 from heart disease, 19,000 from cancer, 12,000 from unintentional injuries, 11,000 from chronic lower respiratory disease, and 4,000 from stroke. The percentages of deaths that were potentially preventable were higher in rural areas than in urban areas.

Health Behaviors

Despite improvements in the overall health of Americans, people living in rural areas were less likely than their urban counterparts to practice health behaviors that could protect them from chronic disease. Ultimately, this puts rural Americans at higher risk for chronic disease than their urban counterparts. A CDC report found that only 1 in 4 rural adults practices at least 4 of 5 health-related behaviors that can prevent chronic disease such as not smoking, maintaining a normal body weight, being physically active, not drinking alcohol or drinking in moderation, and getting sufficient sleep.

Child Health

Mental, behavioral, or development disorders, such as anxiety, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and language problems, often begin in early childhood and can affect life-long health and well-being. Parents of children with mental, behavioral, and developmental disorders in rural communities more often reported having financial difficulties, and rated their own mental health or their partner’s mental health as “fair” or “poor.” They also more often reported living in a neighborhood in poor condition and without amenities such as parks, recreation centers, and libraries. These challenges make it harder for families to give their children the environment and opportunities they need to learn, grow, and thrive. Children with mental, behavioral, and developmental disorders could benefit from better access to mental and behavioral healthcare, programs that support parents and caregivers, and opportunities to learn, play, and socialize. Collaboration among healthcare systems, primary care clinicians, and family support programs may offset the challenges faced by children in rural areas.

Suicide

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In the United States, suicide was responsible for 44,193 deaths in 2015, which is approximately one suicide every 12 minutes. Suicide ranks as the 10th leading cause of death and has been among the top 12 leading causes of death since 1975. Suicide rates in rural areas are generally higher than rates in urban areas. A recent study found that the gap in suicide rates between rural and urban areas grew steadily from 1999 to 2015. Since 2007, the gap began widening more quickly.

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