Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Eating At Buffets Plus Not Exercising Equals Obesity In Rural America

“In small towns in the Midwestern United States, people who eat out often at buffets and cafeterias and who perceive their community to be unpleasant for physical activity are more likely to be obese. ‘It's not that people don't want to get physical activity or eat healthy foods, but we've made it difficult in many communities,’ says Ross Brownson, Ph.D., senior author of the study and a professor at the George Warren Brown School of Social Work at Washington University in St. Louis. ‘People in small towns spend a great deal of time in cars, and they also may not have easy access to fresh fruits and vegetables in their markets.’ The findings are published in the December issue of Preventive Medicine. ‘Although obesity rates are higher in rural areas, this is one of the first studies to look at food choices and exercise in this population,’ says Alicia Casey, first author of the paper and now a doctoral student in health communications at Penn State University. ‘Determining how much these factors increase the risk of obesity in rural areas can help us determine methods to help this group.’ Brownson points out that a lot of travel planning focuses on how to increase the numbers of automobiles on our roadways, not on how to make travel friendly by foot or bicycle. Possible interventions to enhance safety for people who want to walk or bicycle along rural roads include widening the shoulders, using signage to identify pedestrian and cycle areas and reducing speed limits. Options to increase availability and affordability of healthy foods could involve working with food outlet owners and changes in state or federal taxation and agricultural policies to reduce the relative price of healthy foods compared to unhealthy foods. Society, Brownson stresses, will be better off finding ways to prevent obesity instead of trying to treat the condition. ‘We need to take these issues into account when we're making transportation and city planning decisions,’ he says. ‘Everyone will benefit if we make the healthy choice the easy choice.’”


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