California's Rural Elderly Have High Rates of Chronic Illness

Their urban, suburban counterparts enjoy better health, researchers find

FRIDAY, July 8 (HealthDay News) -- Older Californians who live in rural areas have higher rates of chronic illnesses, such as diabetes, obesity and heart disease, than the elderly in urban and suburban areas, a new study finds.

The nearly 710,000 Californians aged 65 and older who live in rural areas represent almost one-fifth of all older adults in the state. These older rural dwellers face a number of challenges to healthy living, including a lack of sidewalks, transportation services, and access to stores that sell health foods, parks, exercise facilities and health care centers, according to a policy brief recently issued by the Center for Health Policy Research at the University of California, Los Angeles.

In addition, there's a shortage of physicians and other primary care providers in rural areas in California, forcing many seniors to travel long distances for health care, the research team said in a university news release.

The researchers' analysis of data from the 2007 California Health Interview Survey found that 61 percent of older adults in rural areas were overweight or obese, compared with 57 percent of those in urban areas and 54 percent of those in suburbs.

One in five older rural dwellers don't include moderate or vigorous physical activity in their leisure time, the researchers found.

Food insecurity is another problem. About 20 percent of low-income older rural dwellers can't consistently afford enough food to last an entire month, a rate about twice that of low-income suburban older adults.

More information

The Rural Assistance Center has more about elderly people in rural areas.

Robert Preidt SOURCE: University of California, Los Angeles, news release, June 14, 2011

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