A recent University of Florida study found obesity rates are significantly higher in rural areas versus urban areas.
According to a UF press release, the study showed 40 percent of rural residents are obese compared to 33 percent of urban residents. About 19 percent of the U.S. population lives in rural areas, which is about 60 million people.
Michael G. Perri, dean of the UF College of Public Health and Health Professionals, said information for the study was gathered using mobile examination units. Adults between the ages of 20 and 75 had their height and weight recorded and were interviewed about their diet and what physical activities they did.
Perri said the study is unique because researchers were able to gather the actual weight of their subjects using body mass index as opposed to having subjects write down what their height and weight were. This allowed researchers to know for sure whether the people being tested were overweight or not.
Perri said the body mass index uses a combination of a person’s height and weight to calculate the amount of body fat a person has. The larger the body mass index, the greater chance that a person has excess body fat.
Perri said the difference in obesity rates between rural and urban areas has to do with the mechanization of typical rural jobs. Because jobs like logging and farming now rely more on machines, as opposed to physical labor, people living in rural areas do not burn as many calories as they used to.
“At the same time, people in rural areas have traditionally consumed a country diet that tends to be higher in calories and higher and fat,” Perri said. “So what happens is if you decrease your physical activity over time, but you keep eating the same high calorie amount, you’re going to have a surplus of energy and that’s going to show itself with high rates of obesity.”
Perri said young adults between the ages of 20 and 40 showed the biggest difference in obesity between rural and urban areas. This was because people in that age group were more likely to be affected by the increased use of machines in rural occupations.
Perri said information from this study is important because obesity is a driving force behind diseases such as heart disease, diabetes and stroke, all of which are more common in rural areas.
When it comes to helping those in rural areas, Perri said that cooperative extensions could be helpful for bringing weight loss education and resources at no cost to those who need it.
“In recent years we have been working with cooperative extension and we have put on several highly successful programs for weight management both for adults but also for kids and families as well,” he said.