Obesity More Likely in Rural Than in Urban Areas

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Kansas researchers maintain that obesity is more likely to occur in young adults living in rural areas than in urban areas of the United States. Growing up in a farming belt in Ohio, I was part of a family whose members all were obese, so this news isn't a shock.

Scientists from the University of Kansas led a study suggesting that place of residence might be a significant factor in the American obesity epidemic, according to Medical News Today. The team analyzed data from the National Center for Health Statistics and published their findings in the fall 2012 Journal of Rural Health.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that more than a third of U.S. adults are obese. The 37.5 percent in this group face obesity-related risks like stroke, diabetes, heart disease, and some types of cancer.

The standard for defining obesity is a body mass index (BMI) of at least 30, according to the Mayo Clinic. Individuals with a BMI of 40 or higher are classified as extremely obese. However, due to muscle content, some individuals might have a BMI in the obese range without having excess body fat.

The researchers looked at factors generally believed to affect obesity: diet, physical activity, race, gender, age, and education. They concluded that there was a significant disparity in obesity in adults between the ages of 20 and 39, but not in older individuals.

The study was the first attempt in more than 30 years to look at heights and weights reported after actual measurements. Prior projects utilized self-reported data and tended to underestimate the extent of obesity present.

Two reasons for the prevalence of obesity in rural areas might be important. First is a rural culture based on an abundance of rich foods prepared at home.

The scientists also found isolation and lack of access to facilities like gyms to be important aspects of rural living. They link the higher obesity rates in only young rural adults to mechanization of many jobs that used to be labor-intensive. Without steps to increase physical activity or make dietary changes, obesity can occur.

I grew up in a rural area and spent most of each summer on my grandparents' farm. They didn't overwork me, but I was physically active digging potatoes, feeding animals, and helping clean the farmhouse. Only on special occasions -- perhaps after a music recital or a wedding -- did we eat at a restaurant or enjoy catered food. Holidays meant food and more food.

When I arrived at college, I couldn't believe that I was in the minority as far as weight. It came as an unwelcome shock that a dorm meal included one pork chop, never two. As a result, it doesn't surprise me that obesity is more likely in rural than in urban areas.

Vonda J. Sines has published thousands of print and online health and medical articles. She specializes in diseases and other conditions that affect the quality of life.

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