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Rural Children More Likely to Be Obese Than Urban Peers

Rural children are about 25 percent more likely to be overweight or obese than urban children, but rural communities and schools are finding ways to fight the problem, according to a recent article.

Sarah Lifsey and Karah Mantinan wrote a two-part piece for the Altarum Institute, a nonprofit health-systems research and consulting group, on why rural children were more likely to be obese, as well as on promising solutions. Their articles called "Barriers to Healthy Country Living: Child Obesity in Rural America" also have been featured on the The Rural Blog, which is run by the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues.

The factors contributing to the obesity problem among rural youth are numerous. Rural communities often lack open public spaces for physical activity, and even when they have such spaces, transportation to get to them can be a challenge. Rural families also can live in "food deserts," which are areas with few grocery stores and a lack of healthy food.

Despite those challenges, rural communities have an opportunity to address the issue by working with schools. Gym classes and recess are the most common places for children to participate in physical activity, and after-school sports programs can be beneficial, too. The challenge can be transportation, so schools should find ways to transport youth to and from these activities, such as late buses or organized car pools, according to Lifsey and Mantinan.

School meals are critical parts of students' diets, so making those healthier and offering more fruits and vegetable is important, according to the authors.

Other solutions include: involving programs and groups already working in rural areas, engaging ethnic and tribal groups, working with employers, and developing materials specifically for rural communities.

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