Health disparities, most often associated with urban ethnic and racial populations, persist in rural America as well. Geographic isolation, socio-economic status, health risk behaviors, and limited job opportunities contribute to health disparities in rural communities. While 20% of the United States population lives in rural areas higher rates of chronic illness and poor overall health are found in those communities when compared to urban populations.
Rural residents are older, poorer, and have fewer physicians to care for them. This inequality is intensified as rural residents are less likely to have employer-provided health care coverage; and if they are poor, often not covered by Medicaid. Federal and state agencies, and membership organizations are working to diminish these disparities and keep rural America healthy and strong. Some provide funding, information, and technical assistance to be used at the state, regional and local level and others inform state and federal legislators to help them recognize the issues affecting health care in rural America.
Are there barriers to wellness programs in rural areas?
Particular structural factors in rural areas present obstacles to rural residents seeking health services and wellness programs. Structural factors related to obesity in rural areas include lack of nutrition education, decreased access to nutritionists, fewer physical education classes in schools, and fewer wellness facilities.
Rural geographic isolation affects being able to seek health services, for example, by affecting the availability of health professionals and availability of educational, preventive and treatment programs, and facilities. Social isolation is also a barrier for rural residents, particularly for the elderly.
There is evidence that some rural-urban health disparities exist such as shortages of some types of primary care physicians (obstetricians and pediatricians), shortages of specialized mental health providers, shortages of specialized oral health providers, and delays in disease screening tests and diagnosis of cancer.