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What leads to obesity in rural communities?

ST. LOUIS -- Residents of rural communities who feel isolated from recreational facilities, stores, churches and schools are more likely to be obese than those who believe they are closer to facilities, new Saint Louis University research finds.

The study is thought to be the first to examine the link between obesity and the environmental factors within rural communities. It builds upon previous Saint Louis University School of Public Health research that examines the environmental features of a community that encourage physical activity, which is critical in the fight against obesity.

"What we found is similar to what we've known. Certain characteristics of a neighborhood may put residents at greater risk of being obese," said Tegan Boehmer, Ph.D., principal investigator and a researcher from Saint Louis University School of Public Health.

"This is the first time it's been confirmed in people who live in rural settings. Altering the neighborhood environment to be more activity friendly may result in higher levels of physical activity and the reduced prevalence of obesity on a population level."

Researchers conducted telephone interviews with about 2,500 residents of 13 rural communities in Missouri, Tennessee and Arkansas. Participants were asked their weight and height so researchers could determine their body mass index, which shows whether a person is obese, overweight or normal weight.

Those surveyed also answered questions about access to recreation facilities and other localities, transportation and safety, aesthetics and food choices in their community.

The study quantified how residents perceive their environment.

Personal behaviors, such as eating a high-fat diet or spending leisure time watching television, and being middle-aged were strongly related to obesity. However environmental factors, such as distance from recreational facilities and other destinations, feeling unsafe from crime and traffi
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Contact: Nancy Solomon
solomonn@slu.edu
314-977-8017
Saint Louis University
30-Jun-2006


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