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News Brief

Nov. 16, 2023 |  By: Farah Siddiqi - Public News Service

American Heart Association of MO observes National Rural Health Day

heart health

By Farah Siddiqi - Public News Service

On National Rural Health Day, the American Heart Association in Missouri spotlights efforts for healthier rural living.

According to a Pew Research report, rural demographics vary - but rural areas are 80% white overall.

Specific regions see more non-Hispanic Black individuals in the rural South, Hispanics in the Southwest and Indigenous individuals in places such as rural Oklahoma, Alaska, the Great Plains and Southwest.

Tim Nikoli - senior rural health director at the American Heart Association Midwest - flags a concerning trend: Rural populations face three years less life expectancy than their urban counterparts, along with challenges such as more seniors, slower growth and higher poverty rates.

"While there are some commonalities among rural areas, we must tailor our strategies to meet the needs of all communities throughout Missouri," said Nikoli. "Within a matter of near miles, people can have vastly different experiences that impact their health outcomes."

According to data reported in Call to Action, Rural Health: A Presidential Advisory From the American Heart Association and American Stroke Association - people living in rural parts of the U.S. are 40% more likely to develop heart disease and have a 30% higher risk of stroke than people who live in urban areas.

Nikoli said a lot of health risk factors in rural communities boil down to access.

He added that rural areas have fewer health care organizations in their communities, and a patient might have to travel 45 or more minutes to get to an appointment, even a basic appointment.

"We think about lack of access to grocery stores, as some of those rural sites have closed, and limited options for healthy food," said Nikoli. "We think about access to, or the capacity of, rural EMS. Certainly those organizations work really hard to keep communities safe, but they're often stretched because of volunteer and staff shortages and are covering hundreds of miles, potentially."

Nikoli said the American Heart Association is committed to improving health-care access of people living in rural Missouri through many programs in coordination with regional libraries and recognition programs.

In 2023, they have proudly recognized health-care organizations for blood pressure control, cholesterol checking and type 2 diabetes management. They want to ensure that rural communities are really ready to respond in a cardiac emergency.