Where we live impacts our risk for obesity, based on recent studies that found children and adults living in rural areas are more likely to be obese than those living in highly populated cities. These findings, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, add to the list of factors that influence risk for obesity.
Obesity is a serious problem in the United States, affecting an estimated 40% of adults and 18% of children. In two separate studies, researchers recently analyzed data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), which collects data on health and lifestyle of U.S. residents. Both studies found that a number of factors influence risk for obesity, including age, race, education and location.
The first analysis included 10,792 U.S. adults who completed the national survey between 2013 and 2016. The average age of participants was 48, and nearly half were obese (defined as having a body mass index of 30 or above) or severely obese (body mass index of 40 or above).
The second study included 6,863 children and adolescents with an average age of 11. Nearly 18% of children were obese and 6% were severely obese.
After analysis, both studies showed that participants living in rural areas were significantly more likely to be obese than those living in more densely populated cities. Researchers also found that Hispanics and blacks had significantly higher rates of obesity than whites, and risk for obesity increased with older age and lower levels of education.
Authors also note that obesity rates significantly increased among adults between 2001–2004 and 2013–2016, regardless of location. This trend was not significant, however, for children and adolescents during the same time period.
The biggest takeaway, according to authors, is the association between location and risk for obesity. While we know that race, education and income all influence obesity risk, findings confirm the association between where we live and our weight.
In this study, children and adults in rural areas were significantly more likely to be obese than those living in metropolitan areas. Efforts to promote a healthy weight, especially in rural settings, could help combat the obesity epidemic.
According to experts, that means educating both children and adults about a healthy diet and lifestyle. Efforts should also include resources and treatment to help overweight and obese individuals achieve a healthy weight.