Health Care for the Farm Population

About 10% of physicians practice in rural areas of the United States, despite the fact 25% of the population lives in those same areas (7). Rural residents are less likely to have employer-provided health care coverage or prescription drug coverage. The rural poor are less likely to be covered by Medicaid than their urban counterparts. The rural population is more likely to be over 65 (18% vs. 15%) and poor (14% below the poverty level vs. 11%). Nearly 25% of rural children live in poverty.

Risky health behaviors are more common among rural youth. The rate of drunk driving arrests is significantly greater in nonurban counties. Forty percent of rural 12th graders report using alcohol while driving compared to 25% of their urban counterparts. Rural 8th graders are twice as likely to smoke cigarettes (more than 26% vs. 13% in large metropolitan areas).

Most studies of specific disease states, with the notable exception of cancers other than skin, show higher rates in rural versus urban areas. Cerebrovascular disease and hypertension are both at least 25% higher in rural versus urban populations. Suicide rates for both men and women are higher in rural areas—mental health services are less accessible (87% of mental health professional shortage areas were in nonmetropolitan counties). The rural, "healthy" lifestyle (greater physical activity, diets heavy in fruits and vegetables), which has previously been credited with lower rates of cancer and some chronic diseases, appears to be overwhelmed by behaviors and diseases associated with stress and lack of self-care. Relative lack of mental and physical health professionals in rural areas only exacerbates the problem.

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