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Evaluation Challenges for Rural Obesity Programs

When planning your rural obesity program evaluation, it is essential to acknowledge and consider the potential constraints and challenges.

One key evaluation challenge is the multifactorial nature of obesity. A number of factors may contribute to obesity. These include: genetics, environmental determinants (e.g., the presence of food stores and walking paths), social and economic drivers (e.g., educational and employment opportunities), the strength of families and social networks, and community safety, among others. Each of the factors contributing to obesity, and their relationship with one another, must be considered in evaluations.

Another key consideration is the cyclical nature of long-term behavior change. Behavior change is a process that occurs in stages, and individuals may experience set-backs before experiencing long-term, lasting changes. Given that evaluations typically occur at a specific point in time, long-term outcomes may not be recorded. Some evaluations of policy, system, and environmental changes focus on tracking short-term or intermediate outcomes (e.g., changes in diet or exercise) given the time needed to achieve and measure long-term outcomes.

For an overview of the key challenges related to program evaluation, see Evaluation Challenges in the Rural Community Health Toolkit.