Carefree Country Living? Study Finds Injury Rates Higher in Rural Areas

December 30, 2008

Country living isn’t as tranquil as it’s cracked up to be.

Injuries requiring a hospital stay are more likely to occur in rural areas compared to urban settings, according to a West Virginia University study.

The study analyzed all reported injuries of people who were admitted to hospitals for treatment in 2004, the latest year available. It found that hospitalization rates for injuries were 35 percent higher in sparsely populated rural counties and 27 percent higher in more populated rural counties, compared with urban areas.

Hospitalization rates for assaults were the highest in urban areas, but for virtually every other cause of trauma, the risks are substantially higher in rural settings, said Dr. Jeffrey H. Coben, a professor in the WVU Injury Control Research Center.

“What we are seeing across-the-board is, in both fatal and nonfatal cases, people who live in rural areas suffer more trauma,” Coben said.

Rural areas led in hospitalization rates for motor-vehicle crashes, falls and poisonings, and were higher for self-inflicted injuries.

Some injuries are attributable to high-risk occupations such as mining, farming and logging, the study said.

For crashes, the study cited longer travel distances for both recreation and work, reduced seat-belt use and other risky behavior, a lack of highway barriers and dividers, and treacherous mountain roads.

Also, a culture of self-reliance may cause rural residents to take on dangerous household tasks such as roof repairs, the study said.

Injury-prevention programs and policies such as child-car seats, household smoke detectors and bicycle helmets have been effective in urban settings, Coben said.

“Many of these increased risks are potentially preventable or modifiable,” Coben said. “As states are balancing their budgets and trying to control health care costs, policymakers ought to be looking at how to prevent these injuries.”

The study is being published in the January issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. It used data from the U.S. Census and the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.


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