Category: Equity

Health Disparities in Rural Areas

Carrie Henning-Smith
Researcher Carrie Henning-Smith

Important health disparities exist between people living in rural areas and those in urban areas. For those living in greater Minnesota, maintaining good health can be a challenge. Rural health researcher Carrie Henning-Smith says much of this is due to social determinants of health.

“[In rural areas] People live farther from each other and farther from the doctor, the hospital, and the heath care provider they need to see so people are traveling greater distances and transportation is often an issue,” she says. “As a result, we sometimes see people going without care that they need, which is problematic.”

But, she says, everyone can help make rural communities healthier.

“Everyone benefits from the work that’s happening in rural areas,” she says. “We, as a society, need to focus on what we can do to change policies to have an impact on those social determinants of health. In large part, we focus that attention on access to care and we have a lot of programs that incentivize providers to go into rural areas, and those are all really great. But we also need to move upstream and think about how do we give people access to education, to employment, to living wages, so that they can have a chance to have a healthy life before they even need to go and see the doctor.”

The Role of Race in Health

Assistant Professor Rachel Hardeman
Assistant Professor Rachel Hardeman

Racial disparities create unequal outcomes in health care. One glaring example is that in the United States, more than 200 black people die prematurely every day. School of Public Health Assistant Professor Rachel Hardeman comments on the disparities.

“Race and racism matter very much for health,” Hardeman says. “Where you work, live, play, and worship have an extreme impact on your health. Where you’re able to send your kids to school, where you’re able to earn a living, the kind of education you receive are all things that are going to disproportionally impact minority communities.”

Hardeman also researches the role of structural racism in health. “Structural racism refers to the big, system-level forces. So institutions, ideologies, and processes that all place burdens on certain racial groups and can privilege other groups,” she says.

According to Hardeman, the first step is realizing the scope of racism in health. “We have to acknowledge how large the problem is, and that’s scary because then it feels like we can’t do anything about it.”

But she does see individuals leading change. “People are really more vocal about [racism in health]. And we all can play a role because eventually that collective is what is going to dismantle these structures we are seeing that create unequal opportunities.”

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