CEC Leader Dr. Mark Dignan on how "Bridging the Great Health Divide" Documentary Showcases Efforts to Fight Disparities in Rural America

LEXINGTON, Ky. (August 6, 2021) - Americans living in rural areas face unique challenges when it comes to accessing health care. Many live far from hospitals. Some don’t have a single doctor in their towns.

The Bridging the Great Health Divide documentary explores the challenges in rural areas and the people who work to help fill gaps left by people or services that have left - or were never there to begin with.

In the documentary, InvestigateTV focuses on the Appalachian and Mississippi Delta regions where the problems that plague much of rural America are sometimes even more magnified and concentrated.

From the Mississippi River east, the team found millions of Americans living in counties where the lack of access to healthy foods, wi-fi, transportation, clean drinking water and medical care have contributed to chronic health disparities.

They are the residents of Appalachia and the Mississippi Delta – two regions that stretch from New York to Louisiana and from Missouri to South Carolina. The regions include parts of 16 states and all of West Virginia.

The Appalachian and Mississippi Delta areas are regions of contrasts: rich in culture, heritage, and pride but comparatively poor in economic opportunities and quality health care.

An exhaustive analysis of state, federal and local data by InvestigateTV paints a portrait of the challenges in these two regions.

A disproportionate number of babies struggle to live to their first birthdays. Many are born tipping the scales at 5 ½ pounds or less.

Adults are plagued by diabetes and obesity – two factors that can lead to even more serious medical problems. In nearly two-thirds of the 662 counties in the Appalachia and Delta regions, the percentage of their adult residents with diabetes exceeds the national average. The CDC has dubbed much of the two regions as America’s “Diabetes Belt.”

Overall, residents of Appalachia and the Delta die younger. In more than three fourths of the counties, residents don’t make it to their 78th birthday, the age average age of death in the U.S.

There aren’t enough doctors to treat them. Their nearby community hospitals are closing, putting stroke victims in particular, in grave danger.

The most food insecure Americans lived in the Delta region of Mississippi, with three of its counties leading the nation with the highest percentage of residents without consistent access to enough food to sustain a healthy lifestyle.

“It’s sort of like a perfect storm,” said Dr. Mark Dignan, professor of medicine at the University of Kentucky and executive director of the Appalachian Community Cancer Network. “People who live in rural areas have the same risk factors as people all across the country (but) have less access to health care. So, diseases like cancer and heart disease strike this population at high rates.”

Great Health Divide is an initiative addressing health disparities in the Mississippi Delta and Appalachia funded in part by the Google News Initiative.

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