Researchers from the University of Rhode Island (URI) found that residents of rural areas tend to have higher rates of obesity and other health issues compared with residents of urban areas, according to a recent study published in Obesity Science and Practice. What’s worse, Black people living in such areas, experience greater health disparities compared with white people than Black city dwellers do.

Lead study author Steven Cohen, MPH, DrPH, an associate professor of health studies at URI, suggests that health issues such as obesity and shortened life expectancy experienced by people living in rural areas are exacerbated by racial disparities.

According to Cohen, residents of rural areas tend to have limited access to health care, be less physically active and have higher rates of obesity—all of which can contribute to the development of type 2 diabetes, increased mortality and poorer overall health compared with city dwellers.

“There’s been research that suggests a rural mortality penalty, the idea being that there are disparities in a number of different health outcomes, obesity being one on the forefront these days,” Cohen said in a URI news release. “Those differences are not uniform around the United States; where you live impacts your health.”

Many studies have found connections between race, geography and health. For example, one study found that the prevalence of obesity among non-Hispanic Black women was significantly higher compared with non-Hispanic white women—57% versus 40%.

And according to an observational study supported by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood, while adults in rural areas have a 19% higher risk of experiencing first-time cases of heart failure, Black men living in these areas have a 34% higher risk.

In addition, a study by the University of Georgia found that although fewer people in the United States overall are dying of cardiovascular disease, rural, Black and poor counties had higher rates of cardiovascular disease compared with urban, predominantly white areas.

Cohen and his team found that racial health disparities are typically more pronounced in rural areas compared with urban areas.

Researchers noted that while rural areas benefit from decreased populations, more space to grow fresh food, better mental health and less pollution, they tend to lack in infrastructure, particularly regarding health care.

“There is more agriculture and open space in rural areas, but we found people tend to do less physical activity,” Cohen said. “Green space isn’t necessarily safe space for walking, jogging, recreation. A lot of that green space is inaccessible agriculture space. They grow the food there but then ship it elsewhere.”

Cohen aims to identify the causes of these racial disparities in hopes of finding potential solutions. He emphasizes the need for government intervention to protect citizens from health inequities.

“Having a 50% obesity rate in some regions is a premature death sentence for millions of people living there. So we have to figure out what is it causing this and address those things,” Cohen said.

To read more, click #Rural. There, you’ll find headlines such as “Heart Disease and Related Deaths Persist in Rural, Poor Areas,” “Black, Rural Southern Women at Gravest Risk From Pregnancy Miss Out on Maternal Health Aid” and “Rural and Urban Divide: The Impact of Geography on Cancer Outcomes.”