A new study out of the University of Minnesota looked at the differences between rural and urban residents when it comes to social isolation and loneliness, which the study said is a growing threat to public health.

The results of the study released in late January challenge prior research that found rural residents at greater risk of isolation due to more distance between family and friends.

The study, led by professor Carrie Henning-Smith and co-authored by professors Katy Kozhimannil and Ira Moscovice, discovered the opposite: People in rural areas experience less social isolation overall, and they actually have more social relationships than urban residents.

The same is not true, however, for black rural residents.

Nearly 5,000 adults and their partners over the age of 65 were included in a national survey that Henning-Smith reviewed for her research recently published in The Journal of Rural Health. County-level data was compared among large cities, small towns and “very rural areas,” a research brief from the university stated.

How does one measure loneliness? Professors used the “Loneliness Scale,” developed by the University of California Los Angeles, which looks at how often a person feels left out, isolated and lacking companionship.

That data was examined along with reported levels of social support — such as relying on family or friends — and the number of relationships with family, friends, children, grandchildren and marital status.

Highlights of the analyzed data show that residents from those “very rural areas” have more children, grandchildren and were able to rely on friends more than city residents. This sense of reliability was also greater among residents of small towns compared with those in cities.

Despite those in rural areas and small towns reporting more friendships, they were more likely than city residents to report feeling left out often or some of the time.

For non-Hispanic black residents in rural areas, they reported significantly higher levels of loneliness than black residents in larger communities and cities. In fact, the study found that black residents in rural areas were four times more likely to be lonely than white residents in rural areas.

Henning-Smith, deputy director of the Rural Health Research Center at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health, said in a statement that these issues should be addressed with more public health interventions and policy.

“More relationships alone is not enough to protect rural residents from feeling lonely; more should be done to facilitate meaningful social connections,” she said.

Source: Kim Hyatt, Agweek