Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Rural Communities and Obesity – The Struggle for Healthy Living

When the term, “rural,” is heard many people think of small communities that face serious problems including access to healthcare, poverty, and transportation. However, one thing that is often overlooked is access to healthy food. The Rural Assistance Center reports:
Due to distance and limited transportation options, shopping for healthy food can prove difficult for those living in areas not served by a major grocery chain.  
For millions of Americans—especially people living in low-income communities of color— finding a fresh apple is not so easy. What can be found, often in great abundance, are convenience stores and fast food restaurants.
Consider the following anecdote: 
Anne, a mother of a small child, decides to spend her Saturday grocery shopping. While this may be an hour or perhaps two-hour excursion for a mother living in a middle-income metropolitan area in the U.S., it is an all day trek for Anne who lives in an underdeveloped rural area.

In order for Anne to get to a grocery store she must take three buses and walk several miles just to reach the store, all with a small child. Once Anne enters the store, she is tired and her child is fussy and angry, the first thing Anne does is grab a coke and hand it to her child, simply to calm him so she can concentrate.

While shopping, Anne is limited in what she can purchase, because anything she buys has to be something that will last, processed foods and canned goods are typical purchases. Anne is further limited by the fact that she can only purchase what she can carry on the journey back, at most two bags of groceries. Lastly, Anne can only buy what she can afford, which limits her ability to buy fruits and vegetable, which are typically more expensive in rural areas.

Once Anne is finished, she is faced with several hours of travel back home. Throughout the week, Anne will be forced to supplement her groceries with foods purchased from local convenient stores and fast food restaurants that are easily accessible.
As can be seen, access to healthy foods is a major contributing factor to obesity in rural areas. This problem is not entirely the fault of poor decision-making or bad parenting; it is also a product of lack of access. Another study reported childhood obesity in urban areas was hire even when differences in diet and exercise were taken into account.

Diet alone is not the only problem in rural communities when it comes to obesity. In addition, rural communities often face problems regarding exercise. The Rural Assistance Center reports that, contrary to popular belief; rural citizens are not more active on a daily basis than citizens in urban or metropolitan areas. This is partly due, again, to access. Many rural areas have less exercise facilities, less physical education in school, and fewer parks and other outdoor recreational areas.

Although there are several ways to combat access to exercise in rural areas, many of them require money and resources these areas might not have. Often suggested are classes on nutrition and healthy cooking classes. However, in areas where healthcare is already limited, this may not be an option.

A better plan is to concentrate on solutions people in the community can implement themselves, at little or no cost. Some programs could be walking clubs, or other health related organizations put together by members of the community. Authorities and experts often report that weight loss and diet change are more successful when done in groups.

Although access to physical activity may be something that can be easily changed with awareness and at a low cost, easy access to health food is a much bigger problem facing citizens in rural communities. Providing better transportation and more grocery stores in rural areas is not a project to be undertaken lightly.

1 comment:

Scrampbell said...

A wonderful post that highlights popular misconceptions surrounding rural life as America's public health crises manifest in rural regions. It will be interesting to see if the approach to dealing with these issues is tailored for the challenges of rural living and what different advocacy measures will be used.