Rural New Zealanders are dying at higher rates than those in the main urban centres, new research out of the University of Otago has found.
The results are worse for those aged under 30 living in the most rural communities, where mortality rates are double those of the most urban centres at 599 urban deaths per 100,000, compared with 1085 in rural areas.
Researchers found higher rural mortality rates across all groups aged under 60.
Lead author Professor Garry Nixon from the University of Otago said the study, published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, contradicts existing data and is the strongest evidence yet that New Zealanders who live in rural areas have poorer health outcomes.
The study uses current data, a definition of rural based on population and drive-time thresholds and considers each age group separately.
The largest disparities were most evident for injury and “amenable death” – potentially avoidable if given effective and timely healthcare – but still present for cardiovascular disease.
For cancer deaths, the disparities are overall smaller and evident in only some age categories.
Co-author Professor Sue Crengle, of the University of Otago, said although both rural Māori and rural non-Māori have higher mortality rates than their urban peers, the consequences for Māori are greater.
The mortality rate for Māori living in the most rural area is 4018 per 100,000 compared with 3055 per 100,000 for non-Māori.
The reasons for the disparities were not analysed, but Crengle said are likely to be “multiple and complex”, with health care likely to be only one factor.
It is also not yet understood how much of these disparities can be accounted for by socioeconomic factors.
The data should not necessarily be viewed as negative, she said, and will help inform the Ministry of Health’s new Rural Health Strategy.
“Understanding these differences exist in New Zealand means we have an opportunity to develop strategies and health service interventions that are targeted.”