Living—and Dying—in Rural America

Health, Home & Family
on January 11, 2009

Dr. Jan Garavaglia, a medical examiner in eastern Florida and star of the Discovery Health television show Dr. G: Medical Examiner, didn't originally get into medicine to pore over dead bodies. But the love of a challenge to figure out how people died led her to forensics. Here, she shares some lessons about life, death and health in rural America.

Q: What are the causes of death you see most often in small towns?

Clearly obesity is a problem all over the United States, but obesity rates are actually higher in the rural areas. And obesity leads to many problems, including high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, some cancers and blood clots. It also makes surgery more difficult, and causes more wear and tear on joints.

Q: What types of deaths do you see most often this time of year?

In rural communities, the number of fire deaths is higher than in urban communities because there's a higher rate of not having a working smoke detector. But no matter where you are, the number one death that I see is heart disease, and the number one day to die of heart disease is Christmas because people don't want to ruin the holiday by seeking medical treatment.

Q: Based on your experience as a medical examiner, what would be three rules youd give people to help them live long, healthy lives?

First, know your numbers: Know your weight, your blood sugar, your blood pressure and your cholesterol. If you know those and you work to keep those in control, you're going to prevent a tremendous amount of natural diseases.

Second, listen to your body. If your body doesn't feel right, that's the time to seek help. Third, have a good attitude. If you don't care about life, you're not going to take care of yourself. I always say try to live in a state of thankfulness that you're alive. That's going to add longevity to your life.