Our Northwest

Country living less healthy than believed

Tuesday, January 24, 2017by  Jon Osterberg

couple in rural area looking into distanceIt's a longstanding notion: Country living equates with fresh air, less stress, and long lives, while city living is less healthy.

However, numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention paint a different picture, as noted in Monday's Seattle Times article.

Rural residents suffer higher mortality rates from all five leading causes of death, including accidents. If you live in one of Washington's 18 rural counties, your chances of dying are 34% higher.

Some of that relates to proximity to health-care providers and specialty care. If you're in a car crash or suffer trauma around the home, it stands to reason that rural residents are farther from help than someone living, for example, in King County.

More people die in passenger vehicles in rural areas than in urban communities. Although just 19% of U.S. residents live in rural areas, more than half of crash deaths occur there, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

row of mailboxes in rural area So what can you do to improve your odds? Slow down, for one thing. In 2015, 71% of rural crash deaths occurred on roads with speed limits of 55 mph or higher, compared with 30% of urban fatalities. And 28% of those who died were speeding.

Also, use your seat belt. In rural fatalities, 47% of motorists were unbelted.

Cigarette smoking is far more prevalent in rural Washington counties, so there's a health variable you can control. But the death rate also is higher there for heart disease, cancer, and stroke. Again, proximity to medical care is a likely factor.

I'm among those not too far from retirement who seek low traffic, short lines, and more sunshine. My wife and I enjoy all of that at our Cle Elum cabin and plan to spend more time there.

hospital sign Yet there's a trade-off underscored by the Times article: As the chances for age-related ailments rise, do we want to root ourselves where the nearest hospital (Ellensburg) is 25 minutes away, with top-notch King County medical care a 90-minute drive?

For us and rural residents of all ages, there's this, noted by a state health official in the Times story: "Primary-care physicians in general don’t want to work in rural areas. We have several programs working on improving that, but it’s not an easy task.” 

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