Perspectives on Approaches to Reduce Rural Obesity: Insights from Community Stakeholders

Brittany Blake

Authors:  Brittany Blake

Faculty Mentor:  LaToya O’Neal

College:  College of Agricultural and Life Sciences


Rural communities have higher obesity rates than the national average but limited access to clinicians and other tools to manage obesity. Rural areas often rely on partnerships between health departments, health extension specialists and faith-based organizations to manage their healthcare. Health workers and faith-based organization leaders act as community stakeholders invested in alleviating rural community health issues, such as obesity. With rural areas’ reliance on such partnerships, analyzing the stakeholders’ perspectives to rural obesity management is important to understanding the crisis. However, few studies have explored community stakeholder perspectives on adult rural obesity. This study analyzed stakeholder perspectives on community resources, rural obesity and their capacity to alleviate obesity in their communities. Participants were interviewed from the following four rural counties in Florida: Taylor, Suwannee, Putnam and Bradford. Survey interviews were administered to a total of 15 participants working as faith-based organization leaders or health promotion specialists. They were asked to assess the barriers to healthy lifestyles within their respective communities, ways to engage community members in health promotion efforts, and needed community resources to combat rural obesity. Participants’ responses were transcribed verbatim and systematically coded for themes. Further findings will be described in the final paper.

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16 Responses
  1. Hi Brittany!

    Your study is so fascinating; it is clear to me from your research that adult rural obesity is less focused on, which is key to breaking the cycle of child to adult obesity. I found it very interesting that faith-based leaders gave more “nuanced responses” to questions surrounding health and perhaps even have a better relationship with rural adults. Would you say, based on your study, that collaboration between all of the groups would best work in a top-down approach, such as health promotion professionals disseminating resources and information to faith-based community leaders? Or would you say that both groups should be equally involved in promoting health in rural adults?

    Thank you for a great study!

    1. Brittany Blake

      Hello Hannah! Thank you for commenting. I would say that each group should equal contribute, but since health promotion professionals have more specific knowledge of health education and community health issues they should be the content experts to distribute information in communities. Faith based leaders serve a role as acting as connectors between local residents and health promotion professionals who are outside of the community . While each group plays a role I also think it is important to consider the particular community as well. In an area that has residents more education and less religious or leans towards one faith (ie. a heavily christian community compared to other religions), there will likely be different levels of contribution each group plays. Your comments shows me potential area of further research. It would be interesting to see how education level or religiosity in a rural community affects how health promotion professionals and religious leaders perceive their roles.

      1. Dear Brittany,

        Thank you so much for your response! I can definitely understand how context would make praxis look very different depending on the area, with the umbrella community stakeholders acting as you mentioned. I believe this type of flexible model would work very well, particularly if I am thinking about even my own local community; although there are urban centers, there are also many rural places that speak different languages, have varying religiosity levels, and even various amounts of medical care access/ trust in health care professionals. I think this is a great model and I hope more communities begin to implement this! 🙂

  2. LaToya O’Neal

    Brittany, great work! How do you foresee your experience with and results from this study informing your future work?

    1. Brittany Blake

      Hello Dr. O’Neal!

      Given the findings of this study, it would be interesting to investigate how these stakeholder groups perceive their self-efficacy and ability to address community health problems. Religious leaders and faith based institution leaders provided information on improvements and strategies to improve their communications, but we never investigated their ranking/ratings on their current ability to provide adequate health promotion in their areas. One area of investigation would be to see if a quantitive measurement can be used to investigate their perceptions on their abilities to reduce rural obesity and use further surveys to understand their comments on their abilities.

      Another area for future work would be to include medical professionals’ opinions on their roles to reduce rural obesity. Our study focused on religious leaders and health promotion professionals, but in rural areas medical organization collaborate with religious and public health/promotion organizations to better rural community health. Learning their perceptions and analyzing the similarities and differences to survey responses could provide more robust research into understanding how each group perceives their role.

      I think hearing from rural residents is another area of research to build upon, since they are the population we hope to target with health promotion efforts. Potentially including rural resident perspectives of efforts to reduce rural obesity in their communities, using a focus group, interviews or surveys could provide information for stakeholders to use to gauge how well their efforts are being perceived and adequately used in their communities as well.

  3. Dehlia Albrecht

    Important work and its clear that your work seeks to fill a gap in knowledge regarding rural obesity in adults. Great job!

  4. Valerie Prytkova


    You are so awesome! I did not realize you were presenting… First of all, I LOVE how you start off with a question: I think that really helps tie the audience in. Also, your research is extremely important and amazing! Very lively presentation.

    Thank you for sharing with us!