Q. Isn't living in the country healthier than living in the city?

I don't think there's a definitive answer to that question. My first reaction to this inquiry was that life in the country is much healthier. It seemed obvious because of the crime, pollution, crowding and stress of the city.

However, the National Rural Health Association (NRHA), a national nonprofit organization, gave me some surprising information that made me rethink my answer.

Here are some of the facts from the NRHA:

Ÿ Only about 10 percent of physicians practice in rural America, which contains nearly 25 percent of the population. There are 2,157 Health Professional Shortage Areas in rural and frontier areas of all states and U.S. territories compared to 910 in urban areas.

Ÿ Rural residents are less likely to have employer-provided health care coverage or prescription drug coverage and the rural poor are less likely to be covered by Medicaid benefits than their urban counterparts.

Ÿ Two thirds of the deaths attributed to car accidents occur on rural roads. One reason for the high mortality rate is delays between a reported accident and the arrival of an emergency medical team located far from the scene. The national average response time for a car accident in rural areas is 18 minutes, or eight minutes longer than in urban areas.

Ÿ As many as 90 percent of first-responders in rural areas are volunteers, not paid professionals.

Ÿ People living in the country are nearly twice as likely to die from unintentional injuries than are urban residents.

Ÿ Rural folk are at a significantly higher risk of death by gunshot than urban residents.

Ÿ Abuse of alcohol and use of tobacco are significant problems among rural youth. The rate of drinking-and-driving arrests is significantly greater in non-urban counties. Rural eighth graders are twice as likely to smoke cigarettes than their peers in the cities.

Ÿ Cerebrovascular disease and high blood pressure are higher in rural areas.

Ÿ About 20 percent of nonmetropolitan counties lack mental health services compared to five percent of metropolitan counties.

Ÿ The suicide rate among rural men is significantly higher than in urban areas. The suicide rate among rural women is escalating rapidly and is approaching that of men.

Ÿ More than 470 rural hospitals have closed in the past 25 years.

Ÿ Rural residents often have to travel long distances to reach a doctor or hospital.

After learning about rural health, I don't think I'll ever feel the same when I drive on blue highways.

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