The CDC Lacks a Rural Focus. Researchers Hope a Newly Funded Office Will Help.

In 2017, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published multiple reports analyzing health disparities between rural and urban populations.

That effort pleased researchers and advocates for improving rural health because the dozen or so examinations of rural health data provided important details about the 46 million Americans who live away from the nation’s population centers. It began to fill a gap in the information used by those who study and address the issues that affect people in rural communities.

But those reports, the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report rural health series, began and ended in 2017. And though the CDC has addressed rural health in other weekly reports and data briefs, the agency hasn’t examined it in such depth since.

That’s one reason rural health advocates successfully pushed for the CDC to extend its rural health focus by creating an Office of Rural Health at the agency. The office is operational as of March 2023, and advocates hope the agency will commit to rural health research and provide analyses that lead to good public health policies for rural communities.

“What we’re seeing is rural continually getting left behind,” said Alan Morgan, CEO of the National Rural Health Association, which urged Congress to fund the office. “They’re communities at risk, communities that may not be employing public health safety measures, and we are flying blind,” he said.

“What’s needed is an ongoing look at rural communities, their populations, to better direct both state and federal efforts to address health disparities,” he said.

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