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Rural Wellness and Prevention

Wellness is an active, lifelong process of becoming aware of choices and making decisions toward a more balanced and fulfilling life. Healthy People 2020 is a national agenda for reducing the most significant preventable threats to health. The goals of Healthy People 2020 include:

  • Attain high-quality, longer lives free of preventable disease, disability, injury and premature death
  • Achieve health equity, eliminate disparities and improve the health of all groups
  • Create social and physical environments that promote good health for all
  • Promote quality of life, healthy development and healthy behaviors across all life stages

The latest rural healthy people document is the Rural Healthy People 2020 which outlines a strategic plan for completing Rural Healthy People 2020.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are there barriers to wellness programs in rural areas?

Particular structural factors in rural areas present obstacles to rural residents seeking health services and wellness programs. Structural factors related to obesity in rural areas include lack of nutrition education, decreased access to nutritionists, fewer physical education classes in schools, and fewer wellness facilities.

Rural geographic isolation affects being able to seek health services, for example, by affecting the availability of health professionals and availability of educational, preventive and treatment programs, and facilities. Social isolation is also a barrier for rural residents, particularly for the elderly.

There is evidence that some rural-urban health disparities exist such as shortages of some types of primary care physicians (obstetricians and pediatricians), shortages of specialized mental health providers, shortages of specialized oral health providers, and delays in disease screening tests and diagnosis of cancer.

What are some examples of effective wellness programs?

Targeted sites for wellness programs include worksites, schools, community centers, and healthcare settings.

Current Practices in Worksite Wellness Initiatives, from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), provides examples of wellness programs and lessons learned. Worksite Wellness State Case Studies are also available from the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO).

Citing rising healthcare costs and alarming health statistics, several governors of U.S. states have implemented wellness and prevention programs in their states in the last few years. The programs generally promote healthy habits, understanding of risks associated with lifestyles, disease management practices, and regular physical activity. Worksites provide an opportunity for influencing lifestyle behaviors because of the time employees spend at work, where they are a captive audience. To create healthier work environments, governors in recent years have banned smoking in or near state office buildings, created wellness councils, promoted the use of alternative transportation, provided time during the day to stretch or exercise, sponsored wellness fairs, and awarded recognition for worksite wellness programs.

Many communities have existing resources that offer an array of health opportunities to the general public, such as walking trails, parks, health clinics and services, and farmers markets. These services and opportunities require visibility for the general public to ensure their full use.

In any community, people listen to many different voices- such as pastors, friends, and physicians- when making important decisions. Partnering with faith-based groups, healthcare providers, and key community organizations can provide ways for reaching different populations.

What are some wellness programs for children?

Children and adolescents can improve their health and quality of life by making physical activity a part of their daily lives. Being physically active early in life has many physical, social, and emotional benefits and can lead to a reduced incidence of chronic diseases in adulthood.

Examples of wellness programs for children that have demonstrated success can be found on RHIhub’s Models and Innovations under the topic of Wellness, health promotion, and disease prevention – use the narrow by topic option to limit results to 'children and youth.'

To learn more about chronic disease in rural areas, see the Chronic Disease in Rural America topic guide.

How do I start a wellness program in my rural community?

Targeted sites for wellness programs include worksites, schools, community centers, and healthcare settings. Wellness programs in rural areas can be started by working with community organizations such as a senior center or a cooperative extension service. For examples of rural wellness projects, including evidence-based examples, please see the models and innovations section of this guide. Here you can find projects addressing a wide range of health issues, using a variety of methods, and targeted to specific audiences, all of which have been implemented in rural communities.

See the funding section of this topic guide for a list of funding opportunities to support wellness programs. You can also contact RHIhub at 800.270.1898 or and an information specialist will do a customized funding search to locate federal, state, and local funding opportunities.

Last Reviewed: 6/1/2015