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Rural Considerations for Early Childhood Health Promotion

Many rural areas demonstrate collaboration, resilience, interconnectedness, and interdependence. Rural residents also value and take pride in their families and communities. These strengths create advantages for implementing early childhood health promotion initiatives. While specific characteristics of any community may differ, at the heart of any early childhood health promotion initiative, community members should be engaged in all stages of planning and implementation.

Rural communities also face obstacles to promoting childhood health. For example, residing in a rural community in the U.S. is a risk factor for childhood obesity. The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) measures health and nutritional status in children and adults in the U.S. NHANES data from 2013-2016 show obesity rates to be higher in rural communities than urban communities for all age groups. In addition to rural disparities, there are racial and ethnic disparities starting in early childhood years and present in every age range. The 2015-2016 NHANES report show higher rates of obesity in Hispanic and Black American youth compared to American youth overall.

Research has also found that rural adults are more likely to be poor, overweight or obese, and sicker than their urban counterparts. Rural adults also have higher rates of smoking and are more likely to be uninsured. These factors may create barriers to addressing and implementing successful health promotion programs for children in rural communities.

Many factors influence childhood health. Policy, systems, and environmental (PSE) approaches to complex problems redirect initiatives away from individual education and instead try to change the environments in which people live, work, and play. Making broader changes to the environment helps to reinforce health behaviors and makes the healthy choice the easy choice.

Resources to Learn More

Current State of Child Health in Rural America: How Context Shapes Children's Health
Reviews the environments of rural communities and how they can influence and impact children's health. Covers healthcare access, weight status, oral health, and mortality. Highlights the necessity of multi-sectoral solutions to children's health issues in rural communities.
Author(s): Probst, J.C., Barker, J.C., Enders, A., & Gardiner, P.
Citation: Journal of Rural Health, 34 (Suppl 1), s3-s12
Date: 2/2018

Promoting Equity Through Integrated Early Child Development and Nutrition Interventions
Discusses integrated child development and nutrition interventions including the design, methods, economic considerations, capacity-building, and policy implications focused on sustainable development.
Author(s): Black, M.M., & Dewey, K.G.
Citation: Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1308, 1-10
Date: 2014