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Study: Rural Americans more overweight than urban residents

Researchers at the University of Kansas Medical Center have discovered that rural Americans are more likely to be obese than their urban counterparts. According to a KUMC report, a study finds that residential location may play a significant role in the obesity epidemic. The report notes that this is the first study in more than 30 years to use measured heights and weights.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that nearly 36 percent of U.S. adults are obese. The CDC also says that obesity can lead to heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer. Not only are there numerous health risks associated with obesity, but the health care costs associated with obesity are extremely high. The CDC estimates that, in 2008, the medical costs linked to obesity were approximately $147 billion.

“There is a definite cultural diet in rural America, full of rich, homemade foods including lots of meat and dessert,” said Christie Befort, assistant professor of preventive medicine and public health at the University of Kansas Medical Center, in a statement.

In addition to cultural diet, Ms. Befort also believes that physical isolation contributes to higher rates of obesity in rural Americans. Living in a rural setting makes it more difficult for rural residents to gain access to health care and other physical activities.

“Access is often about travel time in a rural area, but it can also be that there’s no place to go — literal physical isolation,” Ms. Befort said. “It’s tough to get to a gym if you live outside of a town without one.”

Interestingly, the researchers also found that the study’s conclusion held true for younger Americans in rural settings, but not older Americans in rural locations. The researchers believe that this is due to the increased mechanization of previously labor-intensive activities.

The findings were recently published in the Journal of Rural Health.