Rural and urban health in the U.S. - Statistics & Facts

The health care challenges faced by those in rural areas of the United States can be vastly different from those faced by their urban counterparts. Rural Americans exhibit higher rates of health risk factors, such as smoking, drinking, and being overweight, and are more likely to die from cancer and heart disease than their urban counterparts. Those living in rural areas tend to be older and poorer and access to health care is a continuing problem. In 2016, around 13.3 percent of Americans living outside metropolitan statistical areas didn’t have health insurance coverage, compared to 9.9 percent of those living within a metropolitan statistical area. These individuals might need to travel long distances for health care and access to specialty treatment is often limited.

Rates of invasive cancer are actually slightly higher in large metropolitan counties in the U.S. than in nonmetropolitan rural counties, however differences exist depending on the type of cancer. For example, rates of breast and prostate cancer are higher in large metropolitan counties, but rates of lung and bronchus and colon and rectum cancer are higher in nonmetropolitan rural counties. Nevertheless, death rates from cancer tend to be higher in rural areas, despite having slighter lower cancer rates, perhaps highlighting a lack in proper treatment and access to care.

Disparities also exist concerning mental health. From 2013 to 2015, the suicide rate among those living in large metropolitan areas was around 13 per 100,000 population, while people living in rural areas died from suicide at a rate of almost 20 per 100,000 population. In particular, suicide death rates from firearms are almost double in rural areas than in urban areas.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has recently focused more on the issue of health disparities in rural America and has outlined ways in which these disparities can be addressed. These include reducing obesity through healthy eating and physical activity, promoting smoking cessation, and increasing early detection and prevention of cancer. The rise of digital health, or telehealth, also offers hope in solving this problem by offering easier access to health services and education.

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