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Good Ol' Days at an End In Rural America?

January 30, 2009

Lyons, NE - The good ol' days are fading fast - at least, when it comes to a glowing picture of rural health, with fresh air, good food and plenty of hard work. In the first of a series of papers on healthcare in rural America, today's data shows rural residents aren't doing as well as their urban counterparts in terms of obesity.

There was a time when rural people were in better health, says Jon Bailey, rural research and analysis program director for the Center for Rural Affairs - but no more.

"We found that, in general, rural people are not as healthy in terms of obesity, physical activity and nutrition, as non-rural people. And most troubling is, that particularly applies to rural children. This has significant long-term effects, both for individuals and for our communities in rural America."

Bailey points out that addressing the problem is difficult, partly because many areas in rural South Dakota are short on resources like gyms and hiking or biking trails that encourage physical activity. He adds it is particularly ironic that rural areas also lack access to healthy food - considering they're the very places where food is produced.

"Oftentimes, they have some of the worst diets in the country. Rural populations tend to be older, poorer, less educated, all of which are factors in nutrition and diet and physical activity, thus leading to more obesity and more risk for several conditions and diseases, all of which have bad health outcomes."

Bailey says South Dakota residents should find the report alarming, because obesity is second only to smoking as a cause of death in the United States and could soon overtake tobacco as the Number One killer.

He believes it is important that South Dakota joins the rest of rural America for a seat at the table when federal policymakers begin hammering out the details in the debate on healthcare reform. He notes, however, that true reform can only be achieved if communities, families and individuals take greater responsibility for their own health.

David Law, Public News Service - SD