For a number of years now, the rural areas of industrialized countries have been going through a major crisis. They are experiencing a massive population exodus, primarily of young people, and are losing a considerable number of jobs, primarily to cities and major metropolitan areas. Some authors even go so far as to talk about the “slow death” of rural communities. Yet in Quebec and the rest of Canada, a significant portion of the population—roughly one in five persons—currently lives in rural communities. Under these circumstances, it seemed legitimate to ask: is living in rural communities rather than cities having an impact on the health and wellness of the rural population?
When we began to examine this question, the first thing we realized was that the knowledge developed thus far about the health and wellness of this population was too sparse and too out of date to provide a clear enough picture of the situation. The purpose of the present study has therefore been to describe and illustrate more completely and systematically the health of the people who live in the small, chiefly rural communities of Quebec, and the environment in which they live. This study also provided an opportunity not only to deepen but also to broaden our knowledge of rural communities in industrialized countries. Both here and in other countries, health and wellness issues are critical to any process for revitalizing rural areas, yet these issues have been far less thoroughly documented than others, particularly economic ones.
Our approach to this study was exploratory and descriptive. It consisted in compiling, integrating, and interpreting a variety of statistics from recent sources, including the 2001 Census of Canada, the 2000-2001 Canadian Community Health Survey, and Quebec's databases for its official records of births, hospitalizations, and deaths from 1998 to 2000. Using these sources, we calculated over 70 indicators for various aspects of health, including general health, specific health problems, determinants of health, and the use and organization of health care services.