Over 95% of Canada's land mass is rural, with approximately 20% of Canadians living in those regions. A collaborative study was published in 2006 on the differences between rural and urban health in Canada.
This study found that those who lived in rural or remote areas had a higher mortality rate (i.e., risk of dying) than urban dwellers. This was attributed mainly to a higher number of Canadians diagnosed with circulatory disease (e.g., high blood pressure, heart disease) in rural areas, with accompanied increased risk factors such as obesity and smoking.
Rural men were also found to have a 42% higher risk of death due to respiratory illness (e.g., asthma, COPD). Diabetes-related mortality appears to be a greater concern for rural women in comparison to women living in urban centres, but the opposite is true for males where rural living is associated with a lower diabetes mortality risk.
Injury- or poisoning-related deaths are 2 to 3 times higher in rural Canadians of all ages. Cancer diagnosis is lower in rural Canadians; however, certain forms of cancer occur in higher numbers in the rural population.
Suicide in youths under 20 years old is 4 and 6 times more likely to occur in rural-living boys and girls than urban-living youths, respectively.
The study made some key findings:
Rural Canadian men:
Rural Canadian children (aged 5 to 19) have a higher incidence of committing suicide.
Potential reasons for health differences
Rural Canadians demonstrate several lifestyle-related risk factors that can help explain some of the health differences observed between their urban counterparts. Rural Canadians were more likely to smoke and be overweight, which can lead to circulatory disease, respiratory disease, certain cancers, and diabetes.
Lifestyle choices aside, perhaps one of the major reasons for the differences observed in rural Canadians is the limited access to health care and support programs compared to Canadians living in urban areas. The higher mortality rates of certain diseases may be, in part, due to lack of early diagnosis, where it is known that treatment will have better outcomes.
The statistic of lower incidence of cancer in rural Canada may actually be a positive finding, but instead it can be interpreted as a problem with lower access to proper medical care and lack of diagnoses.
Injury-related mortality can be linked to a number of factors, including the longer times spent on roadways travelling that leads to higher rates of motor vehicle-related trauma, working with farm equipment, and the inability to get timely emergency care due to greater isolation from emergency services.
The high suicide rates in rural children and adolescents are alarming. The known higher suicides rates among aboriginal youth combined with the knowledge that a high proportion of aboriginal people live in rural areas of Canada may, in part, be explanatory to the degree of this problem. Nonetheless, it is obvious that workable measures of suicide prevention require the highest priority attention for the rural youth.
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