How can we define rural?

[Excerpt] Determining what exactly defines a rural community is a tricky business. There are no clear definitions or guidelines for what constitutes an urban or rural area(1). Creating a strict definition is problematic as it disregards the diverse nature of rural communities as well as the multitude of factors that make a community rural. Strict definitions of rurality are of particular concern to health researchers as they often exclude communities that should be considered rural and include communities that should not be considered rural. It is often at the discretion of the researcher to define rural for the context of their project. Some researchers distinguish rural communities based on factors such as population size, others by distance from urban areas, culture, or resources available. Depending on the definition a researcher uses for a rural community, the population included in the research will vary(1). It is thus critical that rural health researchers use a definition of rural that best accounts for what they are trying to study.
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What makes rural health research unique?
Rural health research is distinct from other forms of health research due to the unique health issues relevant to rural communities as well as the specific challenges rural health researchers face when researching rural populations. A large body of evidence suggests that rural communities face a disproportionately large burden of poor health outcomes relative to urban communities, such as an increased incidence of cancer, a shorter lifespan, a greater rate of disability, and elevated rates of chronic illness(2). Furthermore, the small population and remote geography of rural communities pose unique challenges to rural health researchers when collecting and analyzing data (2). To learn more about rural health research in Canada and what makes it unique, check out CIHR’s [Canadian Institutes of Health Research] resource here.