What type of rural? Assessing the variations in life expectancy at birth at small area-level for a small population province using classes of locally defined settlement types

BMC Public Health. 2014 Feb 13;14:162. doi: 10.1186/1471-2458-14-162.


Background: Although efforts have been made to articulate rural-urban health inequalities in recent years, results have been inconsistent due to different geographical scales used in these studies. Small-area level investigations of health inequalities will likely show more detailed pictures of health inequalities among diverse rural communities, but they are difficult to conduct, particularly in a small population region. The objectives of this study were: 1) to compare life expectancy at birth for females and males across small-areas classified by locally defined settlement types for a small province in Canada; 2) to assess whether any of the settlement types explains variations in life expectancy over and above the extent of socioeconomic disadvantage and social isolation; and 3) to examine variations in life expectancies within a (larger) area unit used as the basis of health inequality investigations in previous studies.

Methods: Seven settlement types were determined for the 'community' units based on population per-kilometre-road density and settlement forms. Mean life expectancies at birth for both genders were compared by settlement type, both for the entire province and within the Halifax Regional Municipality--the province's only census designated metropolitan area, but also contains rural settlements. Linear regression analyses were conducted to assess the statistical associations between life expectancy and the settlement types, adjusting for indicators of community-level deprivation.

Results: While types of communities considered as 'rural' generally had lower life expectancy for both genders, the effects of living in any settlement type were attenuated once adjusted for socioeconomic deprivation and social isolation. An exception was the village and settlement cluster type, which had additionally negative effects on health for females. There were some variations observed within the Halifax Regional Municipality, suggesting the importance of further investigating a variety of health and disease outcomes at smaller area-levels than those employed in previous studies.

Conclusions: This paper highlighted the importance of further articulating the differences in the characteristics of rural at finer area-levels and the differential influence they may have on health. Further efforts are desirable to overcome various data challenges in order to extend the investigation of health inequalities to hard-to-study provinces.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Female
  • Health Status Disparities*
  • Humans
  • Life Expectancy*
  • Linear Models
  • Male
  • Nova Scotia / epidemiology
  • Rural Health Services
  • Rural Population*