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Gap Between Rural and Urban Life Expectancies Grows

Update Date: Jan 24, 2014 11:45 AM EST

Within every country, there are many discrepancies in residents' overall life quality depending on where the residents are from. Due to many differences such as income, education level and state laws, health inequalities continue to exist. The Healthy People 2020 initiative was started in order to help reduce these inequalities. However, in a new study, researchers reported that the gap between the life expectancies of residents from rural and urban cities is growing.

"We've had information about life expectancy by gender, racial or ethnic and socioeconomic groups, but to our knowledge, nobody has looked at how disparities in life expectancy have changed over time-whether they're widening or narrowing," said the study's lead author Gopal K. Singh, Ph.D, of the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA). "In fact, disparities have been increasing over the past two decades as opposed to the last four."

For this study, the researchers focused on the life expectancies of people in the U.S from the past four decades. From 1970 to 2010, the overall life expectancy increased from 70.8 years to 78.7 years. When the researchers examined the gap in life expectancies between rural and urban residents, they found that the gap increased. From 1969 to 1971, the rural-urban gap was 0.4 years. In 2005 to 2009, however, the gap increased to two years.

The researchers identified several factors that could contribute to this widening gap. The team stated that accidents, cardiovascular disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and lung cancer could be responsible for 70 percent of the overall gap. These conditions could also explain 54 percent of the rural-urban life expectancy gap between 2005 and 2009.

"When compared to urban areas, rural areas have higher rates of both smoking and lung cancer, along with obesity, yet reduced access to health care services. Additionally, rural residents have a lower median family income, higher poverty rate and fewer have college degrees," Singh said according to Medical Xpress. "There's always a temptation to take public health resources away from rural areas and focus on where people actively live, which would reduce the national disease burden but cause even greater rural-urban disparities in health and life expectancy."

The study was published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

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