Children in rural areas face more health challenges than those in urban parts of the country, and are more likely to be poor, more vulnerable to death from injuries, and more likely to use tobacco. Rural families also have more difficulty in gaining access to health care. But the majority of parents, regardless of whether they live in urban or rural communities, say their kids are healthy.
These findings are from a report entitled "The Health and Well-Being of Children in Rural Areas: A Portrait of the Nation 2007," compiled by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Health Resources and Services Administration. The report's results are based on the National Survey of Children's Health, conducted in 2007.
The survey classified children as living in an urban area, a large or well-populated rural area or a small or isolated rural area. Large rural areas include large towns with populations of 10,000 to 49,999. Small rural areas include small towns with populations of 2,500 to 9,999. Survey results were not broken down by state.
The report found children's overall health status does not vary substantially according to location. Four-fifths of parents said their children are in excellent or very good health, regardless of where they live.
But the analysis found rural children, as a whole, face more health risks than their urban counterparts. Only 67.6 percent of children in large rural areas and 69.8 percent in small rural areas are breast-fed, compared to 77 percent of urban children. (About 59 percent of new mothers breast-feed in Kentucky, compared to 75 percent nationwide.)
Rural children are also more likely to be overweight or obese — 34.6 percent of children in large rural areas and 35.2 percent in small rural areas compared to 30.9 percent of urban children. Rural children are also more likely to live with someone who smokes — one in three children in large rural areas and 35 percent in small rural areas do. Only one in five urban children do.
Though about 90 percent of children surveyed had health insurance, those in rural areas were more likely to have public coverage like Medicaid or CHIP. Urban children were more likely to have private insurance. Access to health care also remains a factor. Of the 2,052 non-metropolitan counties identified in 2010, 704 were designated as health professional shortage areas. Of those, 467 had shortages for dental care and 521 lacked adequate mental health services. To find if a Kentucky county is in a health professional shortage area, click here.
There are some advantages for rural children, however. They tend to be better protected and more connected to their families and communities. More than half of children in small rural areas shared a meal with their families every day in the past week. Children in small rural areas are also more likely to get physical activity every day (34.7 percent), though they are less likely to have access to community centers, parks or playgrounds. However, rural children are more likely to spend more than an hour each weekday watching television or videos — 60.9 percent of children in large rural areas did so, compared to 53 percent in small rural areas and 53.9 percent of urban children.
The data for the National Survey of Children's Health was generated using a random telephone survey, in which 2.8 million telephone numbers were randomly generated. After non-working and non-residential numbers were eliminated, the remaining numbers were called and surveyors spoke to respondents to see if children less than 18 years of age lived in the household. From each of those households, one child was randomly selected to be the focus of the interview and parents responded to the survey questions. Surveys were conducted in English, Spanish, Mandarin, Cantonese, Vietnamese and Korean.