Thursday, February 05, 2009

A Surprise Regarding Rural Health and Activity

When I grew up on the farm, I did not participate in many organized sports activities, but I spent literally hours every day playing outside. I climbed trees, built forts, helped with chores, even walked around on home made stilts! This is what I would consider to be the typical rural kid lifestyle.

My parents both worked hard, performing a good deal of physical labor, and both were a healthy weight and were generally very healthy people. Mom was 91 and Dad was 97 when they passed away about five years ago.

We ate lots of good food on the farm, fresh garden produce in the summer and home-canned food in the winter. Talk about local food - our milk came from the milk tank, about 50 yards from the kitchen table. How trendy is that?

Apparently my experience may not be replicated in significant parts of rural America today. The Center for Rural Affairs reports that rural Americans lag behind their urban counterparts in physical activity and nutrition, and they are more likely to be obese. Consider this excerpt from Rural People Lag in Physical Activity, Nutrition and Weight.
Growing anecdotal and statistical evidence show that rural people are no longer better off in terms of physical activity, nutrition and weight compared to urban residents. Recently, a comprehensive review of several studies that examine nutrition, physical activity and obesity in rural areas found a significant body of research documenting problems in nutrition and activity. Further, rural residents generally fare worse than their urban counterparts in regards to obesity, opposite to the situation that existed prior to 1980.

National and state studies have found rural children to have higher rates of obesity than do urban children. National studies have found rural adults more physically inactive than urban adults. And rural children engage in behaviors that result in less healthy lives. Nearly half of rural children report not participating in any after school sports/activities, and nearly half of rural children report spending at least two hours per day with electronic entertainment media, slightly higher than the number of urban children reporting the same behavior.
My suspicion is that the farm residents that make up a sub-group of "rural" fare better in this analysis than others. The term rural is generally made up of a range of non-urban categories including many small towns and outlying areas. But I will have to be on the look out for data that either supports or dispels my suspicion. I fear that perhaps our intensive, industrialized model of agriculture has diminished the connection between farm and food and activity that I grew up with.

More later . . .


Anonymous Anonymous said...

You raise an interesting point that "rural" statistics and demographics include farm and non-farm. Having lived in more than half a dozen rural areas in the south, New England, Mid-Atlantic, Mid-West, and Great Plains, there are many differences among rural living and lifestyles, including food choices. I appreciate the insight on interpreting national data!

6/09/2010 3:59 PM  

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