Why focus on rural health and wellbeing
Place matters. The places we are born, grow, work, live, and age influence our health and wellbeing. Factors such as economic opportunities; access and quality of transportation, housing, education, food, and health care; community connections and sense of belonging; and clean air and water are critical to people’s ability to thrive.
Compared with urban communities, mortality from all causes among adults is higher in rural communities and is increasing over time (whereas it is decreasing in urban communities). The specific mortality from the five leading causes of death in the US – heart disease, cancer, stroke, chronic lower respiratory disease, and unintentional injuries – are also higher in rural communities. Death rates for children living in rural communities are 25% higher than those for children living in urban communities. These health inequities are a result of social, economic, and structural determinants of health. As examples, rural communities have higher rates of food insecurity and homelessness, less access to transportation or other resources needed to access services, and lower median incomes. Public spending on social services, such as education and parks, in rural communities is significantly lower than that in urban communities.
These disparities in determinants and inequities in health outcomes are unfair, unjust, and critical to address to promote wellbeing for rural communities.
Yet, focusing only on disparities misses the vitality, vibrancy, and diversity of rural areas and their importance to the fabric of the US. Rural places are centers of culture, innovation, beauty, and community. To hear more about the vitality of rural spaces, connect to our podcast about rural life.