New CDC Study Spotlights Health Issues in Rural Areas

Where you live might just be one of the most important choices you make when it comes to your health.

Rural Americans are more likely to die from the top five causes of death — heart disease, cancer, unintentional injury, chronic lower respiratory disease and stroke — than their urban counterparts, according to a recent article by The Washington Post. The article highlights a new study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About 15 percent of the United States population or 46 million people live in rural areas.

In 2014, these five leading causes of death took the lives of nearly one million Americans. That’s 62 percent of the total 1.6 million deaths in the U.S from these causes. About 70,000 deaths of rural Americans were potentially preventable, the CDC study found, including 25,000 from heart disease and 19,000 from cancer.

Here are some other key takeaways from the study:

  • For each of the top five causes of death, the percentage of potentially preventable deaths was higher among rural Americans than urban ones.
  • Unintentional injuries — one of the top five causes of death including overdoses from drugs, alcohol and other chemicals, motor vehicle crashes and other accidents — were about 50 percent higher in rural areas.
  • Overdose death and opioid misuse rates are among the highest in rural communities.
  • Delays in getting urgent health care are common in rural areas since emergency medical services take longer to reach poisoned or injured patients.
  • There are fewer 24-hour trauma centers with advanced equipment and specialized staff in rural areas.
  • No matter where you live you should care that, for the first time in more than two decades, the nation’s life expectancy declined in 2015 due to increasing death rates from heart disease, stroke, diabetes, drug overdoses, accidents and other conditions, according to a report released in December 2016 by the National Center for Health Statistics.

What now?

The findings from this study will hopefully help health care providers in rural areas better address gaps in care, including more comprehensive screenings for high blood pressure and cancer, increased efforts to get residents to quit smoking and wear seat belts, and strong consideration of alternatives before prescribing addictive narcotic painkillers.

But why wait for these things to happen? Knowledge is power, and now you have more of it.

Up to 40 percent of the annual deaths from each of the leading five U.S. causes are preventable, according to the CDC. No matter where you live, you can start making changes to your own behavior today to decrease your risk.

Cigarette smoking remains the leading cause of preventable disease and death in the U.S. Don’t wait for a smoking cessation program to come to you. Here are some resources within your reach to help you or a friend start kicking the habit today.

Some other things you can do to help prevent the top five are:

  • Wear a seat belt — every time
  • Exercise more
  • Eat healthier
  • Get enough sleep
  • Only drive when you’re sober
  • Limit your sun exposure
  • Cut back on drinking alcohol

Statistics about where you live don’t have to determine your future. There are many ways you can take your health into your own hands, and encourage others around you to do the same.

You can read more about preventing the leading causes of death here on the CDC’s website and check out The Washington Post’s full article here.

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Photo credit: Rodney Campbell

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