obese rural america photo

Whether it’s due to rural poverty, a shortage of healthcare services or education–rural America is suffering from a blight of positive health outcomes. Reducing the widening gap in U.S. life expectancy in rural versus urban areas has long been a goal , but it seems the gap is only widening.

According to a new study in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine conducted over a 40 year period, rural residents experienced far smaller gains in life expectancy compared to those from urban areas.

“We’ve had information about life expectancy by gender, racial or ethnic and socioeconomic groups, but to our knowledge, nobody has looked at how disparities in life expectancy have changed over time — whether they’re widening or narrowing,” the study’s lead author Gopal K. Singh, Ph.D, of the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), reported on Science Daily. “In fact, disparities have been increasing over the past two decades as opposed to the last four.”

Rural residents are at a greater risk of morality from chronic diseases. In 1970, the life expectancy was 70.8 and in 2010 it was 78.7. The study shows that the rural urban gap was .4 from 1969 to 1971 and from 2005 to 2009 it grew to 2 years. Accidents, cardiovascular disease, COPD, and lung cancer accounted 70 percent of the gap. According to the study, “The rural poor and rural blacks currently experience survival probabilities that urban rich and urban whites enjoyed 4 decades earlier.”

“When compared to urban areas, rural areas have higher rates of both smoking and lung cancer, along with obesity, yet reduced access to health care services. Additionally, rural residents have a lower median family income, higher poverty rate and fewer have college degrees,” said Singh.

Today 17 percent of the U.S. population lives in rural areas versus 83 percent in urban areas. As a result, those who live in rural areas are often at risk of losing the healthcare resources needed to reduce the gap in life expectancy in an effort to put them in places with more concentrated populations.

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