Role of the built environment and obesity among rural children and adults

New research promotes active living and physical activity in rural communities.

Photo Credit: Sarah Eichberger
Photo Credit: Sarah Eichberger

Traverse City’s “signature street” recently completed a makeover. Through funds secured from the Michigan Department of Transportation and the city, renovations to West Front, and home to the Grand Traverse County MSU Extension office, have made this busy “gateway to the city” more pedestrian friendly. Complete street strategies like this are one of several approaches the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s (RWJF) Active Living Research outline in a newly published brief on physical activity promotion and obesity prevention in rural communities.

Children and adults who live in rural areas face higher rates of obesity than urban dwellers. The recently published RWJF brief includes a summary of current research on elements of the rural built environment, or all of the physical parts of where we live, learn, work and play, and it’s impact on obesity and physical activity.

Some takeaway points from the research brief include the following:

  • Regular active transportation may be an unrealistic option for some rural residents, thus increasing the importance of active recreation opportunities in rural communities.
  • Enhancing features of the rural environment, such as playgrounds, parks and recreational facilities, and diminishing barriers, including isolation, climate, safety fears, cost, lack of transportation, and lack of access to physical activity areas, are both key in addressing active living and obesity in rural communities.
  • Building infrastructure (e.g., wider paved shoulders along rural roads, and pedestrian crossings) and implementing Complete Streets policies that accommodate the needs of pedestrians and bicyclists can help reduce barriers to being physically active.
  • Creative, local solutions tailored to specific community culture, geography, climate and needs are necessary when addressing rural active living.

Interested in making your rural community more active?

  • Check out the Step it up! campaign, the Surgeon General’s call to action to promote walking and walkable communities.
  • Consider applying for a micro-grant designed to increase local walking programming and stimulate community demand for infrastructure improvements. Deadline is October 15.

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