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AUBURN UNIVERSITY, Ala.—It’s harder to be healthy in rural Alabama.
National Rural Health Day, slated for Thursday, Nov. 21, will shine a spotlight on how health issues affect rural populations differently than their urban neighbors in Alabama and the nation.
Barbara Struempler, assistant director for Alabama Extension, said that residents of rural areas in the United States tend to be older and more likely to be sick than their urban counterparts.
Obesity and vaping are two of the nation’s top health priorities, according to U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams, but Struempler said both of those issues impact rural America disproportionately.
“Rural residents have higher rates of cigarette smoking, high blood pressure and obesity than urban residents,” she said. “They also report less leisure-time physical activity.”
Alabama Extension Fighting Back
Alabama Extension uses a number of initiatives to improve the overall health of all the state’s residents.
Through Body Quest, a comprehensive obesity prevention effort, Auburn University SNAP-Ed reaches approximately 20,000 youth annually by providing healthy eating and physical activity education through school-based initiatives and after-school summer programs.
“Serving more than 50 counties, Body Quest is available to schools with more than 50 percent of students receiving free or reduced-priced meals,” said Sondra Parmer, Auburn University SNAP-Ed project leader. “Over the years, it has empowered thousands of Alabama’s youth to make healthier choices, as well as engaging parents in learning and behavior change.”
Katie Funderburk, who guides SNAP-Ed’s social marketing campaign, Live Well Alabama, said that using a variety of communications platforms is an important part of reaching rural audiences as well as people living in more urban areas.
“Billboards made more than 162 million impressions, and our social media following grew by an average of 44 percent,” Funderburk said. “Text messaging campaigns help us educate and communicate with thousands of Alabamians each week. Finally, promotional signage in schools, grocery stores and parks and trails reminded Alabamians to Eat Better, Move More and Choose Water.”
Live Well Alabama campaign materials and messages also raise awareness and support for Extension’s community-based efforts to increase access to healthy foods and physical activity for rural and urban Alabamians through local and state partnerships.
Another program—ALProHealth—aims to prevent and reduce obesity by supporting community coalitions that focus on health and wellness in 13 counties where adult obesity is greater than 40 percent. It is a four-year effort supported by a grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“ALProHealth is succeeding because we work with community coalitions to develop programs tailored to a particular county,” said Ruth Brock, ALProHealth leader. “These coalitions foster engagement and enhance community pride.”
Across Alabama, ALProHealth and its partners focus on three key strategies.
- Increasing healthy eating options by working with producers, retailers, farmers markets and institutions.
- Increasing physical activity opportunities by improving pedestrian, bike, and public transit options and connecting them to homes, worksites, schools and other institutions around town.
Struempler added that Extension professionals are also tackling the issue of e-cigarettes and vaping with teens as a primary target audience.
“The ease with which young people can get these products is very concerning,” Struempler said.
Paul Brown, Alabama Extension associate director, said Extension’s effectiveness in these efforts is a direct result of the organization’s presence in every county.
“Extension has access to both the multidisciplinary research and educational resources of Auburn University as well as the network of partners and existing relationships with local communities across Alabama,” Brown said.
For more information on the programs offered by agents in your area, visit Alabama Extension online.