About rural health

About rural health

The rural health gap

It is widely accepted that rural and remote communities experience difficulties due to geographic isolation. The health of Australians in rural and remote areas is generally poorer than those who live in major cities and towns. They experience:

  • Higher mortality rates and lower life expectancy
  • Higher rates of high blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity
  • Higher mortality rates from chronic disease
  • Higher prevalence of mental health problems (including dementia)
  • Higher rates of alcohol abuse and smoking. 

Influencing factors include environmental and socioeconomic issues, community capacity and individual behaviours.

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The lowered health outcomes for rural and remote Australians include:

  • Five-year relative survival rate for cancer (including  bowelbreastlungovarianpancreaticprostate and neglected cancers) decreases with increasing remoteness
  • Diabetes (both type 1 and type 2) ranks higher as a cause of death among people in remote and very remote areas compared with regional and major city areas
  • The prevalence of asthma is significantly higher in people living in inner regional areas compared with those living in major cities or outer regional and remote areas
  • Adults living in outer regional and remote areas of Australia are 9% more likely to be overweight or obese 
  • An estimated 20% of adults, including about 960,000 people living in regional, rural and remote areas, have experienced a mental disorder (including schizophrenia) in the previous 12 months.

Although largely preventable, chronic diseases (once they develop) can often be effectively controlled through behavioural change, medication and other health-care interventions.

While Australia has had some successes in preventing and treating these diseases, their prevalence continues to grow as the population increases and better treatment allows people to live longer.

If left unchecked, risk factors like obesity, physical inactivity and insufficient fruit and vegetable consumption, combined with an ageing population, suggest that the burden of chronic disease (including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, arthritis and associated morbidities) will continue to grow.

The risk of developing chronic diseases is closely associated with smoking, physical inactivity, poor nutrition and the harmful use of alcohol.

Some of which, in turn, contribute to being overweight or obese, high blood pressure and high blood cholesterol levels.

Each of these risk factors, however, is modifiable.