Social cohesion can influence health. It is higher among rural versus urban residents, but the burden of chronic disease is higher in rural communities. We examined the role of social cohesion in explaining rural/urban differences in healthcare access and health status. Rural (n = 1080) and urban (n = 1846) adults (ages 50+) from seven mid-Atlantic U.S. states completed an online, cross-sectional survey on social cohesion and health. We conducted bivariate and multivariable analyses to evaluate the relationships of rurality and social cohesion with healthcare access and health status. Rural participants had higher social cohesion scores than did urban participants (rural: mean = 61.7, standard error[SE] = 0.40; urban: mean = 60.6, SE = 0.35; adjusted beta = 1.45, SE = 0.54, p < .01). Higher social cohesion was associated with greater healthcare access: last-year check-up: adjusted odds ratio[aOR] = 1.25, 95% confidence interval[CI] = 1.17–1.33; having a personal provider: aOR = 1.11, 95% CI = 1.03–1.18; and being up-to-date with CRC screening: aOR = 1.17, 95% CI = 1.10–1.25. In addition, higher social cohesion was associated with improved health status: higher mental health scores (adjusted beta = 1.03, SE = 0.15, p < .001) and lower body mass index (BMI; beta = −0.26, SE = 0.10, p = .01). Compared to urban participants, rural participants were less likely to have a personal provider, had lower physical and mental health scores, and had higher BMI. Paradoxically, rural residents had higher social cohesion but generally poorer health outcomes than did urban residents, even though higher social cohesion is associated with better health. These findings have implications for research and policy to promote social cohesion and health, particularly for health promotion interventions to reduce disparities experienced by rural residents.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health