Document Type

Policy Brief

Publication Date



Childhood obesity and inactivity are significant and growing problems in many rural areas where the prevalence of obesity and overweight has been shown to be 25 percent higher than urban rates, even after controlling for income, race, physical activity and other known risk factors. While rural areas are often viewed as an ideal setting for an active childhood, kids face a variety of obstacles to incorporating physical activity in their daily lives.

Active living research to date has focused largely on urban and suburban environments. This study investigates the complex web of determinants that support or undermine physical activity in rural youth. We visited three very different small Maine towns (Waldoboro, Dover-Foxcroft and Houlton), where we led youth focus groups and interviewed key informants including rural town planners, school personnel, recreation directors and parents. We also conducted townscape surveys of the physical characteristics of each community. Obesity and inactivity have roots in many aspects of rural life, from the physical environment, to social, policy and programmatic factors.

Funding Organization or Grant

Supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Active Living Research Program, grant number 59455. The Maine Rural Health Research Center is supported by the federal Office of Rural Health Policy, HRSA, USDHHS, CA#U1CRH03716.