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Open Access Research article

Urban and rural variations in morbidity and mortality in Northern Ireland

Gareth O'Reilly, Dermot O' Reilly*, Michael Rosato and Sheelah Connolly

Author Affiliations

The Department of Epidemiology & Public Health, The Queen's University of Belfast, Belfast, Northern Ireland

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BMC Public Health 2007, 7:123  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-7-123

Published: 26 June 2007

Abstract

Background

From a public health perspective and for the appropriate allocation of resources it is important to understand the differences in health between areas. This paper examines the variations in morbidity and mortality between urban and rural areas.

Methods

This is a cohort study looking at morbidity levels of the population of Northern Ireland at the time of the 2001 census, and subsequent mortality over the following four years. Individual characteristics including demographic and socio-economic factors were as recorded on census forms. The urban-rural nature of residence was based on census areas (average population c1900) classified into eight settlement bands, ranging from cities to rural settlements with populations of less than 1000.

Results

The study shows that neither tenure nor car availability are unbiased measures of deprivation in the urban-rural context. There is no indication that social class is biased. There was an increasing gradient of poorer health from rural to urban areas, where mortality rates were about 22% (95% Confidence Intervals 19%–25%) higher than the most rural areas. Differences in death rates between rural and city areas were evident for most of the major causes of death but were greatest for respiratory disease and lung cancer. Conversely, death rates in the most rural areas were higher in children and adults aged less than 20.

Conclusion

Urban areas appear less healthy than the more rural areas and the association with respiratory disease and lung cancer suggests that pollution may be a factor. Rural areas however, have higher death rates amongst younger people, something which requires further research. There is also a need for additional indicators of deprivation that have equal meaning in urban and rural areas.