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Individuals Living in Rural Areas at Higher Risk of Death from Cancer

December 30, 2021

A study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicated that Americans living in rural areas experienced higher age-adjusted death rates from the five leading causes of death than their urban-dwelling counterparts.

In an analysis of mortality data between 1999 and 2014 from the National Vital Statistics System, Ernest Moy, MD, from the National Center for Health Statistics at the CDC, and authors found that the number of potentially excess or preventable deaths among people <80 years living in nonmetropolitan areas, compared to metropolitan areas, were:

  • 25,578 for heart disease
  • 19,055 for cancer
  • 12,165 for unintentional injuries
  • 10,676 for chronic lower respiratory disease
  • 4,108 for stroke

According to researchers, "Approximately half of deaths from unintentional injury and chronic lower respiratory disease in nonmetropolitan areas were potentially excess deaths, compared with 39.2 percent and 30.9 percent, respectively, in metropolitan areas." (See FIGURE.)

"This new study shows there is a striking gap in health between rural and urban Americans," said CDC Director Tom Frieden, MD, MPH. "To close this gap, we are working to better understand and address the health threats that put rural Americans at increased risk of early death."

Fifteen percent of the U.S. population live in rural areas, and the authors identified several demographic, environmental, economic, and social factors that might influence the health of rural dwellers, including that residents:

  • Tend to be older and sicker.
  • Have higher rates of cigarette smoking, high blood pressure, and obesity.
  • Report less leisure-time physical activity and lower seatbelt use than their urban counterparts.
  • Have higher rates of poverty, have less access to health care, and are less likely to have health insurance.

To read the full report, visit

Sources: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention press release, January 12, 2017; Moy E, Garcia MC, Bastian B, et al. Leading causes of death in nonmetropolitan and metropolitan areas — United States, 1999–2014. MMWR Surveill Summ. 2017;66:1-8.


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