By Shawn Poynter and Tim Marema
Rural America’s above-average mortality rate ought to be getting more attention than it is, according to a former federal health official who will be part of a presentation this week on rural life expectancy.
“Several million people dying too soon is as important as a terrorist attack, but it’s not on the candidate debates or the evening news,” said Wayne Myers, who was head of the federal Office of Rural Health Policy during the Clinton administration.
That’s bad news for the country as a whole, not just rural areas, according to Myers. The same trends may be affecting metropolitan areas but be harder to spot, he said.
“In a large complex city, you may have all sorts of trends in different demographic groups headed in different directions and cancelling each other out: trends in prosperity, security, access to medical care, drug use. You can see effects sooner on smaller, more homogenous rural populations. We need some smart statisticians willing to work on smaller populations to sort this out.”
Myers is one of the participants in a Thursday, Jan. 28, webinar that will review the National Advisory Committee’s findings. (The webinar is free and open to anyone who is interested. Registration information.)
“I hope the webinar will get some more people wanting to know why too many rural people are dying young,” Myers said. “I think that is really important. Eventually I’d like to see a group convened to sort out what is scientifically known about (1) the impact of social and economic change on people’s health, and (2) what actually works to improve the health of groups of people.”
The brief notes that “social circumstances and behavior” are major factors in premature rural deaths, contributing in more than half of rural deaths.
“When discussing mortality and life expectancy – inextricably linked to population and individual health – it is also necessary to examine aspects outside of health care that both lead to poor health and can be used to improve it,” the brief states. “This includes factors in households, schools, places of employment, transportation, and physical environments.”
The brief was presented to Department of Health & Human Services Sec. Sylvia Mathews Burwell. Among policy suggestions were support for more research and increased funding for rural medical personnel and programs.[box style=”2″]This story originally appeared here and is shared by N.C. Health News through a content-sharing agreement with The Daily Yonder, an online publication dedicated to all things rural in the U.S.[/box]