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Report: Rural Americans Dying More Frequently from Preventable Causes

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Friday, November 29, 2019   

FRANKFORT, Ky. – More than 46 million Americans live in rural areas, and a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says these residents tend to be older and sicker compared with people living in urban areas.

In Kentucky, the report says excess deaths from preventable causes jumped by more than five percentage points in all counties.

Macarena Garcia, a senior health scientist at the CDC, says access to emergency medical services is a major factor.

"So when we talk about unintentional injury, specifically overdose deaths, there are particular reasons why the mortality rate is higher,” she explains. “One has to do with emergency transportation."

The report found a widening gap nationwide in the percentages of preventable deaths between rural and urban counties between 2010 and 2017.

Garcia also points out less access to preventive care and regular checkups mean that high blood pressure and early cancer are more likely to go undetected among rural populations.

"This is really now the critical point,” she stresses. “They have less access to health care, specifically specialized health care, and they are less likely to have health insurance."

Health conditions linked to cigarette smoking also are a contributing factor to early deaths in rural communities.

Garcia says in 2017, more than 57% of deaths from chronic lower respiratory disease in the most rural counties were potentially preventable.

"When we look at the data for chronic lower respiratory disease, that is where we see the biggest gap between urban and rural areas, as far as excess deaths go, and that is also where we see the rate and the trend increasing over time," she states.

Garcia says rural health care providers and public health programs should work to help patients quit smoking, reduce their opioid prescribing and screen earlier for high blood pressure to curb early deaths.


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