Association of Rurality With Risk of Heart Failure

Rural populations experience an increased burden of heart failure (HF) mortality compared with urban populations. Whether HF incidence is greater among rural individuals is less known. Additionally, the intersection between racial and rural health inequities is understudied.

Objective To determine whether rurality is associated with increased risk of HF, independent of cardiovascular (CV) disease and socioeconomic status (SES), and whether rurality-associated HF risk varies by race and sex.

Design, Setting, and Participants This prospective cohort study analyzed data for Black and White participants of the Southern Community Cohort Study (SCCS) without HF at enrollment who receive care via Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS). The SCCS is a population-based cohort of low-income, underserved participants from 12 states across the southeastern United States. Participants were enrolled between 2002 and 2009 and followed up until December 31, 2016. Data were analyzed from October 2021 to November 2022.

Exposures Rurality as defined by Rural-Urban Commuting Area codes at the census-tract level.

Main Outcomes and Measures Heart failure was defined using diagnosis codes via CMS linkage through 2016. Incidence of HF was calculated by person-years of follow-up and age-standardized. Sequentially adjusted Cox proportional hazards regression models tested the association between rurality and incident HF.

Results Among 27 115 participants, the median (IQR) age was 54 years (47-65), 18 647 (68.8%) were Black, and 8468 (32.3%) were White; 5556 participants (20%) resided in rural areas. Over a median 13-year follow-up, age-adjusted HF incidence was 29.6 (95% CI, 28.9-30.5) per 1000 person-years for urban participants and 36.5 (95% CI, 34.9-38.3) per 1000 person-years for rural participants (P < .001). After adjustment for demographic information, CV risk factors, health behaviors, and SES, rural participants had a 19% greater risk of incident HF (hazard ratio [HR], 1.19; 95% CI, 1.13-1.26) compared with their urban counterparts. The rurality-associated risk of HF varied across race and sex and was greatest among Black men (HR, 1.34; 95% CI, 1.19-1.51), followed by White women (HR, 1.22; 95% CI, 1.07-1.39) and Black women (HR, 1.18; 95% CI, 1.08-1.28). Among White men, rurality was not associated with greater risk of incident HF (HR, 0.97; 95% CI, 0.81-1.16).

Conclusions and Relevance Among predominantly low-income individuals in the southeastern United States, rurality was associated with an increased risk of HF among women and Black men, which persisted after adjustment for CV risk factors and SES. This inequity points to a need for additional emphasis on primary prevention of HF among rural populations.