Introduction: Preventive health interventions often occur less frequently among rural women compared to urban women. Preventive counseling is an important feature of comprehensive preventive healthcare provision, but geographic disparities in the receipt of preventive counseling services have not been fully described. In this study the framework of the behavioral model of healthcare utilization was employed to investigate the association between rurality and receiving preventive counseling. It was hypothesized that demographic differences in rural and urban communities, as well as differential healthcare resources, explain rural-urban healthcare disparities in preventive counseling. Methods: Data were collected by telephone survey during 2004-2005 for 2002 participants aged 18-45 years in the Central Pennsylvania Women's Health Study. Measures of preventive counseling were based on US Preventive Services Task Force recommendations as of 2004. Multivariable models assessed the independent contribution of rurality to the receipt of counseling for smoking, alcohol/drug use, birth control, nutrition, weight management, and physical activity. Rurality was assessed using Rural-Urban Communting Area Codes. All models controlled for variables that predispose individuals to use health services (age, race/ethnicity, educational level), variables that enable or impede healthcare access (having a usual healthcare provider, using an obstetrician-gynecologist, poverty, and continuous health insurance coverage) and need-based variables (health behaviors and indicators). Results: In bivariate analysis, the rural population was older, had lower educational attainment, and was more likely to be White, non-Hispanic. Urban women tended to report seeing an obstetrician-gynecologist more frequently, and engaged more frequently in binge drinking/drug use. Preventive counseling was low among both rural and urban women, and ranged from 12% of the population for alcohol/drug use counseling, to 37% for diet or nutrition counseling. The degree of rurality appeared to impact counseling, with women in small or isolated rural areas significantly less likely than urban women and women in large rural areas to receive counseling related to smoking, alcohol/drug use and birth control. Overall, rural women reported less counseling for alcohol/drug use, smoking, birth control, nutrition and physical activity. In multivariable analysis, rurality was independently associated with lack of preventive counseling for physical activity. However, adjusting for predisposing, enabling and need-based variables fully attenuated the effect of rurality in the remaining models. Younger age, higher educational attainment, and seeing any obstetrician-gynecologist were associated with receipt of counseling in several models. Conclusions: Most women do not receive recommended preventive counseling. While rural women are less likely than urban women to receive counseling, rurality generally was not independently associated with receipt of counseling once demographics, access to health care, and health behaviors and indicators were controlled. This suggests that both demographic differences between rural and urban communities as well as aspects of healthcare access govern rural-urban healthcare disparities in preventive counseling. These results speak to important targets for reducting urban-rural healthcare disparities in receiving preventive counseling, improving the health literacy of the rural population, educating rural healthcare providers about the need for preventive counseling, and the expansion of access to obstetrician-gynecologists in rural communities.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number1617
JournalRural and Remote Health
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2011

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Emergency Medical Services
  • Health(social science)
  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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