wide view of a dirt road in rural North Dakota

The Road to Rural Health

Confronting health challenges faced by 66 million people in rural U.S. communities through science, education and advocacy.

Small towns have a big problem with health care. But they also have the resilience to meet the problem. People in rural communities live almost three years fewer than urban dwellers, and they’re more likely to die early from heart disease or a stroke.

The reasons are varied and not always understood.

Higher rates of tobacco use, physical inactivity, obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure increase the risk for serious diseases. Rural communities face severe shortages of health care professionals. People may live a long way from hospitals or clinics. Or they may reside in “food deserts,” remote from reliable access to healthy food.

Even so, the advantages of rural life, including a strong sense of connection, of neighbors helping neighbors, provide a sturdy foundation for overcoming these health disparities.

People who live in rural areas get sicker and die sooner than people in urban areas. But the American Heart Association – working with people in rural communities – is committed to changing that picture.

Stories from rural America

Imagine not having a doctor in town. Think what it would mean to live 200 miles from the nearest hospital. One in five people in the U.S. may face just such realities because of where they live. We’re zeroing in on some of the major health issues facing rural America and what’s being done about them.

The American Heart Association visited Alaska, Kansas, Kentucky, The Dakotas and West Virginia to try to understand the rural health challenges people face, and how they are working to overcome them. Watch our Health Wanted video reports to see how they’re responding to improve their communities.


Great distances and multiple health care systems in the nation’s largest state.


The Ioway tribe grapples with food insecurity by returning to traditional farming methods.


People face rugged terrain, long distances and other barriers to health.

The Dakotas

Long distances and fewer medical professionals impact emergency response.

West Virginia

While the state ranks low in many health categories, people there are working to make a difference.

The AHA responds

The AHA has issued a Presidential Advisory identifying rural health challenge as one of three main barriers to health equity and is making a wide-ranging effort to address it in close cooperation with communities that are affected.

The Advisory highlights these urgent needs:

  • Increase access to care
  • Improve quality of care
  • Reduce risk factors
thumbnail of AHA 10 Commitments Report for 2021 2022

Initiatives in action

Removing barriers to health in rural areas is a top priority for the AHA, which is directing energy and resources to close the gap between rural and urban care. Here’s how:

Rural Health Care Outcomes Accelerator

Image of a country road with road sign saying "Hospital"

Improving care at hospitals and clinics with no-cost access to Get With the Guidelines® programs for coronary artery disease, heart failure and stroke.


AmeriCorps smiling young woman volunteer posing in front of abstract mural

Enlisting service-minded people to work in rural communities to improve heart health.

HeartCorps is a service opportunity for those interested in driving health equity in rural America with the AHA.

Support our mission and you can join us in helping rural communities

We’re dedicated to removing barriers to health – such as the challenges rural Americans face. We’re telling these stories to raise awareness about these problems. Join our efforts to combat issues in rural America and in other communities.

Donate: Your gift can help support the full mission of the AHA, including increased access to care.

Volunteer: Join us to help communities everywhere.

Rural health news