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What is a rural or remote region / community?

The terms “rural and remote” are often used to describe rural, remote, northern and non-urban Aboriginal communities. A community may be termed “rural or remote” based on multiple criteria. Size of the region, density of the population and distance from urban areas are some of the factors, among others that are considered when defining rural and remote populations (DU Plessis et al, 2002).

The definition of rurality and remoteness may vary since the term ruralilty could present a geographical concept or a socio-cultural concept. Therefore, there is no consensus on the definition of what constitutes a rural area (Dandy & Bollman, 2008).

According to Statistic Canada 2011, communities that have less than 10,000 residents or territories that lie outside population centers that have more than 1000 residents or 400 persons per square kilometer are termed as census rural areas (DU Plessis et al, 2002, Dandy & Bollman, 2008).

Rural and Remote Canada

Almost a quarter of the Canadian population lives in rural and remote areas which constitute  95% of the country’s land mass (Government du Quebec, 2001). Canada’s northern areas occupy half of that land mass. Among the Canadian provinces Quebec has the largest rural population constituting almost 21% of the population (Government du Quebec, 2001).

Just over half of the 1.4 million Aboriginal people of Canada live in rural and remote communities, constituting up to 30% of the northern population.  Rural and remote communities have varied geographic, cultural and socio-economic characteristics. The economies of most of these communities rely on various industries such as (Health Canada, 2002):

  • Tourism
  • Agriculture
  • Forestry
  • Fishing and Hunting
  • Oil and gas

Rural Communities and the Health challenge

Rural residents  tend to have higher mortality rates, higher prevalence of  smoking, obesity and disability compared to their urban counterparts .

When considered for their health status, rural communities in comparison to urban population centers have mostly been at a disadvantage.

While rural communities that are located near urban areas have better health scores, more remote communities have significant health disparities and higher mortality rates, higher prevelance of smoking, obesity, disability and lower prevalence of physical activity and healthy dietary habits. This is due to socio economic and environmental factors such as income, employment, education and environment (DesMeules M, 2006). Moreover, residents of rural communities are less likely to adhere to disease prevention and health promotion initiatives due to lack of resources, inadequate heath care provision and counseling. These equity gaps between rural and urban populations are largely associated with poor access to health care services and declines in health care workforce (Goodridge D et al., 2010).

There is a discrepancy between the health care needs of the rural population and availability of health care providers and health services.