Rural living could be an obesity risk factor

A new study suggests you are where you live – at least in terms of weight.

A rural address could be a risk factor for being overweight, according to the research published in the fall issue of the Journal of Rural Health.

The study, led by researchers at the University of Kansas, analyzed data from the National Center for Health Statistics. They said it is the first in more than 30 years to use actual measurements of height and weight, rather than self-reported data, which can be unreliable.

About 70 million Americans, or 23% of the population, live in rural areas. The researchers found that 39.6% of them are obese, while 33.4% of urban residents were obese. Including overweight people as well, the comparative totals were 70.8% and 67.1%, the study said.


The factors at work could be the “cultural diet” of rural America, as well as the isolation that often exists, said the lead researcher, Christie Befort, assistant professor of preventive medicine and public health at the University of Kansas Medical Center.

That diet includes “rich, homemade foods,” with lots of meat and desserts, she said. Rural Americans typically consume more fats than their urban counterparts, the study found.

Another factor could be the increased mechanization of farm work, Befort said. Older generations showed less disparity in weight than younger ones – older farmers would have put in more manual labor, she said.

“Although some intervention research has begun to address obesity among rural adults and families, great attention needs to be focused on dissemination of effective programs to rural areas, which contain some of the largest medically underserved communities in the nation,” the researchers said.