Leading Causes of Death in Rural America


Residents of rural communities are more likely to die from the five leading causes of death—all of which are potentially preventable.

When compared with urban populations, rural communities experience higher death rates from heart disease, cancer, unintentional injury, chronic lower respiratory disease and stroke. Despite declines in nearly all of these causes of death, rural areas are experiencing a slower decline.

Bar chart of Leading Causes of Death in Rural AmericaRural health disparities—such as higher rates of chronic disease and indicators of poor overall health—contribute to the widening gap in death rates between rural and urban areas. The approximately 46 million Americans who live in rural areas are more likely to smoke, be obese, report physical inactivity and have high blood pressure.

Residents in rural counties often face difficulty accessing health care services. Those living in rural counties are more likely to be uninsured, live within a health professional shortage area (HPSA) and experience a local hospital closure.

A growing focus on rural communities has spurred state policymakers to seek health improvements as well as decrease the associated financial burden to states. For example, chronic disease treatments account for 86 percent of national health care costs, and higher rates of chronic diseases in rural communities can result in higher costs.

State leaders attempting to bridge the gaps and improve the health status of those living in rural communities are exploring strategies to improve access to health care services and promote better health.

These include increasing prevention and wellness initiatives, focusing on health care workforce recruitment and retention, improving health coverage through private insurance or Medicaid, expanding telehealth and other policy options.

Source: Moy E, Garcia MC, Bastian B, et al. Leading Causes of Death in Nonmetropolitan and Metropolitan Areas—United States, 1999–2014. MMWR Surveill Summ 2017;66(No. SS-1):1–8.