New research, led by Otago University, shows that people living in rural areas of New Zealand die at higher rates compared to those living in main urban centres.
It investigated data from the Ministry of Health and Statistics NZ, examining 160,179 registered deaths in New Zealand between 2014 and 2018. The study categorized deaths into five outcomes: all-cause, amenable (potentially avoidable with timely and effective healthcare), cardiovascular, cancer, and injury-related deaths.
Lead author of the study, Professor Gary Nixon from Otago University told REX host Dominic George that while it is the first time this has shown through in data in New Zealand, the result is not overly surprising.
"This is what's been known for a long time in comparable countries like Australia, Canada and the US for example," he said.
"We've also identified that most of that disparity occurs in the younger age groups."
Previous reports that have been done in New Zealand suggested that mortality rates were pretty much exactly the same in urban and rural areas, which would make Aotearoa an outlier compared to comparable countries.
Professor Nixon believes the reason their most recent data suggests otherwise is because previous studies weren't using an appropriate definition of 'rural' when it comes to health and health delivery.
The largest disparities were most apparent among those aged under 30 in rural communities where mortality rates were double that of most urban centers.
Professor Nixon acknowledged there are likely a number of complex factors that could contribute to this disparity, but told George it is also plausible that health services and access to health services could also have an impact.
"There are also quite significant urban-rural differences in something called amenable mortality, which is the group of deaths that are potentially preventable with access to preventative, high-quality health care."
His focus on individual age groups has also improved the accuracy of this data and uncovered trends that may not have been expected.
"You get a different sort of trend when you look at the quite elderly, in fact, in that age group rural mortality rates are a little bit lower.
"That's almost certainly because when people become a bit unwell and frail they often end up shifting to the city to access residential care or health services.
"That migration skews all the figures and if you don't look at individual age groups, you're going to miss some important facts."
In Australia, Canada and the United States, Professor Nixon said this sort of data has spurred governments to develop more targeted rural health policy, and is hopeful their newfound data can have a similar effect in Aotearoa.
Listen to the full chat between Otago University Professor Gary Nixon and Dominic George above.