The national study, which will appear in the fall 2012 Journal of Rural Health, showed that of over 8,800 Americans studied, 40 percent of those living in rural areas are obese, compared with 33 percent of urban residents.
Led by researchers at the University of Kansas, the study used data from the National Center for Health Statistics which measured heights and weights of individuals. This method is the first to be used in more then 30 years. Previous studies used had relied on self-reported data, which traditionally results in an underestimate of obesity prevalence according to Science Daily
. Because most people tend to overestimate how tall they are and underestimate how much they weigh, using data based on adults who weighed on a scale and had their height measured in medical settings is considered a more accurate data representation.
The University of Florida News
says the obese rural residents studied tended to be married, were African-American, and consumed a higher percentage of their daily calories from fat. Urban residents considered obese were typically older in age, were African-American, had a lower completed education level, were primarily inactive and consumed a higher percentage of their daily calories from fat.
Two main factors were cited which lead to rural Americans being obese: diet and physical isolation. The lead author of the study, University of Kansas Medical Center Professor Christie Befort, told ABC News
her family has rural roots in Kansas. She recalled visiting her grandmother's kitchen as they prepared for a potluck:
"A whole jar of mayonnaise was going into a casserole dish. I was like, 'Do you know how many calories are in a tablespoon of mayonnaise?' There is very little awareness and concern about how preparation contributes to calories in the food."
Befort also noted that rural residents often have to travel further to access health care and have limited or no recreational facilities and gyms. She told Science Daily
"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. It's tough to get to a gym if you live outside of a town without one."
Another possible contributing factor is a limited availability of fresh vegetables. Dr. Joseph A. Skelton of Wake Forest Baptist Health -- Brenner's Children's Hospital in Winston-Salem, N.C., told ABC News
"There is some perception that rural areas have better access to fresh vegetables because of farming. Many farms practice mono-agriculture, such as corn, and may not get access to a wide variety of vegetables."
According to the University of Maryland Medical Center
, obesity is determined by using the body mass index, or BMI, which uses a formula that calculates a ratio of your height to your weight. If you have a BMI of 25 - 29.9 you are considered overweight. Those with a BMI of 30 or more are considered obese.
Health conditions associated with obesity include:
High cholesterol (including high triglyceride levels)
High blood pressure