Study: Cities may actually be safer than suburbs, rural areas

Car accident-related deaths are more likely in rural areas

Living in a rural area is more dangerous than living in a city, possibly because rural health care services are less accessible and less specialized, according to a study published this week in the Annals of Emergency Room Medicine.

For the study, University of Pennsylvania researchers analyzed records on 1.3 million U.S. deaths that occurred between 1999 and 2006. The deaths included those from drowning, falls, firearms, suffocation, and machinery injuries; researchers discarded terrorism-related deaths.

Overall, researchers found that city dwellers were 20% less likely to die from a serious injury than their rural counterparts.

Nationwide, the top three killers were car accidents, shootings, and drug-related poisonings. Researchers found that between city and rural residents, the likelihood of dying from:

  • A shooting-related accident is equal;
  • A drug overdose is higher in a city; and
  • A car accident is nearly two times higher in the country.

"Perceptions have long existed that cities were innately more dangerous than areas outside of cities, but our study shows this is not the case," lead author Sage Myers said, adding that the "findings definitely surprised me."

"Homicide rates are higher in cities, and people think of those more emotional and sensationalized dangers, but the risk of motor vehicle accidents and machinery accidents is much higher in rural areas," she added.

Moreover, the areas with the "highest rate of injury-related deaths have the lowest access to trauma care and physicians trained in emergency room medicine," Myers said.



Myers told the Los Angeles Times that she hopes the research will "feed that conversation and help us reconsider how our health care is laid out" (Medical News Today, 7/25; Walsh, CNN, 7/23; Netburn, "Science Now," Los Angeles Times, 7/24).


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