Disparities in Urban and Rural Life Expectancies

rural fields, dirt road, horse in field

Many people try to escape the fast-paced city life by moving to quieter, rural areas, but a recent study concludes that may be a danger to your health.

Researchers Gopal Singh and Mohammad Siahpush published a study in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine which found that there are disparities between urban and rural life expectancies, and residents of rural areas had a lower life expectancy than those who live in cities.

The Research

Singh and Siahpush analyzed U.S. county-level mortality data from 1969-2009. Life expectancies were calculated by age, gender, and race, and grouped into 3-year time periods until 2004. Years 2005-2009 made up the final group.

The counties were designated into five groups based on population size and proximity to metropolitan areas:

  • Large metropolitan county-group
  • Medium metropolitan county-group
  • Small metropolitan county-group
  • Urban non-metropolitan country-group
  • Rural non-metropolitan country-group

The results showed that overall life expectancy improved from 70.8 years in 1970 to 78.7 years in 2010. However, the urban-rural disparity gap increased from 0.4 years to two years.

Combined with racial and gender factors, the inequalities become more dramatic. Poor black men in non-metropolitan areas experience 22 years shorter life expectancy than poor Asian/Pacific Islander women in metropolitan areas.

Unintentional injuries, CVD, COPD, and lung cancer accounted for 70% of the overall rural-urban gap. Rural areas also reported a higher number of smokers, of obese residents, and lower access to health care services.

In addition, the suicide rate among men in rural areas is 47% higher than those who live in more populated areas.

Why the Gap?

The disparity in life expectancy correlates to several factors including income, education, and job creation. For example, the median income in 1970 for rural residents was $2,892 less than residents of urban areas, as compared to a difference of $16,842 in 2009.

In 2009, the Center for Rural Affairs published their top 10 health concerns for rural areas. Among those were:

  • An economy based on self-employment and small business, and thus poorer health insurance
  • Stressed health care system due to poor financial health and a large proportion of Medicaid and Medicare reliant patients
  • A sicker, more at-risk population
  • Lack of mental health services
  • Slower adoption of advanced technologies

Do you think the recent changes in health care legislation will help decrease the disparities between rural and urban areas? Or will the life expectancy gap continue to worsen? We’ll be discussing the further inside Sermo.

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