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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

East Tennessee Co-authors Article on Disparity in Rural Health Departments

Dr. Kate Beatty, assistant professor in the department of health services management and policy in the College of Public Health, has co-authored an article in Annual Reviews on the challenges faced by rural local health departments. The article, “The Double Disparity Facing Rural Local Health Departments,” focuses on the two difficult prospects that rural communities served by smaller health departments face: pervasively poorer health behaviors and outcomes and a historical lack of investment by local, state, and federal public health entities.

[Photo: Dr. Kate Beatty]

The 2010 U.S. Census estimated that 60 million adults, or 20 percent of the population, live in rural areas. To illustrate trends in health and health care access among rural populations, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released the Urban and Rural Health Chartbook in 2001; the Chartbook compared mortality, risk factors, and health care access across urbanization levels. The 2014 update to the Chartbook delineated the worsening gaps between rural and nonrural areas in many health challenges; most notable were the increase in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease mortality, suicide rates, and obesity. Research further showed the life expectancy rates for Americans living in rural areas were up to 9.1 years lower than the U.S. average, with some variation by race and geography.

The review names  individual and environmental characteristics, including higher rates of risky health behaviors, persistent poverty, limited access to health care and poor health care quality, and a weak public health policy environment as factors influencing health outcomes for rural residents. Local health departments lack both staff and capacity for high performance. Partnerships with local organizations, a staple of health departments, are often more limited in both number and type. Limited access to technology restricts access to information available electronically, including the latest public health evidence, training opportunities, and quality improvement materials.

Annual Reviews volumes are published each year for 46 focused disciplines within the Biomedical, Life, Physical, and Social Sciences including Economics.