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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 and being overweight and are more likely to die from certain diseases, like 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.

How do death rates differ between rural and urban populations?

Over the past couple decades there has always been a significant difference in overall death rates among those who live in rural areas compared to those who live in urban areas in the United States, and this difference has grown even more intense over the past few years. In 2019, the overall death rate among those in urban areas in the U.S. was around 693 per 100,000 population. In comparison, the death rate among those in rural areas was 834 per 100,00 population. Heart disease and cancer are the leading causes of death in both rural and urban areas, however rates of both diseases are higher in rural areas than urban areas. Those in rural areas also have higher rates of death from unintentional injuries, chronic lower respiratory disease, and suicide.

Access to health care in rural areas

Those living in rural areas in the United States often do not have access to the same quality health care as those in urban areas and are also more likely to not have health insurance coverage. In 2018, around 10.6 percent of those living in a metropolitan statistical area did not have health insurance compared to 14 percent of those outside metropolitan statistical 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. Funding for rural health by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has also increased in recent years and is expected to reach 762 million U.S. dollars by the year 2022.

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