Open Access Research article

Cardiovascular risk factors differ between rural and urban Sweden: the 2009 Northern Sweden MONICA cohort

Martin Lindroth1, Robert Lundqvist1, Mikael Lilja2 and Mats Eliasson1*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Public Health and Clinical Medicine, Sunderby Research Unit, Umeå University, Umeå, Sweden

2 Department of Public Health and Clinical Medicine, Östersund Research Unit, Umeå University, Umeå, Sweden

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BMC Public Health 2014, 14:825  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-14-825

Published: 9 August 2014



Rural communities have a higher burden of cardiovascular risk factors than urban communities. In Sweden, socioeconomic transition and urbanization have led to decreased populations in rural areas and changing characteristics of the remaining inhabitants. We investigated the risk factors in urban and rural populations in Northern Sweden.


The 2009 Northern Sweden MONICA Study invited a random sample of 2,500 people, 25 to 74 years and 69.2% participated. Community size was classified as rural = <1,000 inhabitants, town = 1,000-15,000, or urban/city= >15,000. We adjusted our analysis for age, gender and education.


The rural population was older and the proportion of men was higher than in the urban areas. Having only primary education was more common in rural areas than in urban areas (26.2% vs. 12.3%). Waist and hip circumference, body mass index (BMI), and total cholesterol levels were higher in rural areas than in urban areas, even after adjusting for differences in age and gender. The largest differences between rural and urban dwellers were seen in waist circumference of women (4.8 cm), BMI of women (1.8 units) and cholesterol of men (0.37 mmol/l). Blood pressure was higher in rural areas, but not after adjusting for age and gender.

Participants in rural areas were more often treated for hypertension and hyperlipidaemia, hospitalized for myocardial infarction and diagnosed with diabetes. However, after adjusting for age and gender, there were no differences. The odds ratio for being physically active comparing rural areas to urban areas was 0.73 (95% CI 0.53; 1.01). Smoking, snuff use and the prevalence of pathological glucose tolerance did not differ between community sizes. Middle-sized communities often had values in between those found in rural and urban communities, but overall they were more similar to the rural population. Further adjustment for education did not change the results for any variable.


In 2009 the rural population in northern Sweden was older, with less education, higher BMI, more sedentary lifestyle, and had higher cholesterol levels than the urban population. The rural population should be considered targets for focused preventive interventions, but with due consideration of the socioeconomic and cultural context.

Risk factors; Cardiovascular; Urban; Rural; Cohort; Blood pressure; Anthropometry; Cholesterol