A recent study released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed that rural Americans are at a higher risk of dying from five major causes than those living in urban areas. The potentially preventable causes were: heart disease, cancer, unintentional injuries, chronic lower respiratory disease and stroke. The top five causes of death across the state of Kansas are the same, but in a slightly different order: cancer, heart disease, chronic lower respiratory diseases, stroke and unintentional injuries.
“We have seen increasing rural-urban disparities in life expectancy and mortality emerge in the past few years,” said Jim Macrae, acting administrator for the Health Resources and Services Administration in an announcement when the study was released. “CDC’s focus on these critical rural health issues comes at an important time.”
This latest study adds to considerable evidence that links poor health to low income, low educational attainment and poverty, which is higher in rural areas, according to Gayle Price, K-State Research and Extension family and consumer specialist.
“The poverty rate in rural Kansas is 15.1 percent compared to 13.1 percent in urban areas of the state,” she said, citing the Rural Health Information Hub. “Over 12 percent of the rural population has not completed high school compared to 8 percent of the population in urban Kansas. The average income per capita in rural Kansas was around $4,400 less than the state average.”
More than 900,000 Kansans call 89 rural counties home. That is more than 30 percent of the state’s population. Many factors, including demographic, environmental, economic and social factors put rural residents at risk. Residents in rural areas are often older and sicker. They also have higher rates of cigarette smoking, high blood pressure and obesity. They report having less leisure time, higher rates of poverty, less access to health care services and are less likely to have health insurance.
Price said, however, that there are more health inequalities experienced by rural residents than just poverty. They include getting an education, access to safe housing, foods that are both healthy and affordable and affordable transportation. The lack of affordable transportation could contribute to other issues such as access to employment and health services.
But help is available in every Kansas county: K-State Research and Extension has a network of trained professionals across the state whose job is to help residents connect to services and education that can help improve their lives.
“Local extension offices provide extension agents who are available to support individuals, families and communities as they address challenging issues around health,” Price said. “These examples may include workshops, training, educational sessions on a variety of health topics, working within a community to increase access to healthy foods, helping to promote and create healthier environments, community or school gardens or improve access to safe spaces so people are encouraged to be more physically active.”