Study objective: To (1) describe the setting and design of the Good Ageing in Lahti Region (GOAL) programme; (2) by using the baseline results of the GOAL cohort study, to examine whether living in urban, semi-urban, or rural communities is related to risk factors for chronic diseases and functional disability in ageing individuals.
Design: The baseline data of a cohort study of ageing individuals living in three community types (urban, semi-urban, rural). Data were collected by two questionnaires and laboratory assessments.
Setting: Fourteen municipalities in the Lahti region (Päijät-Häme County) in Finland.
Participants: A regionally and locally stratified random sample of men and women born in 1946-50, 1936-40, and 1926-30. A total of 4,272 were invited and 2,815 (66%) participated.
Main results: Elevated serum cholesterol, obesity, disability, sedentary lifestyle (<2 times/week walking), and high fat intake were more prevalent in rural vs. urban and semi-urban communities. After adjustment for sex, age, education, obesity, diet, physical activity, smoking, and alcohol use, rural communities remained the only community type with increased (p<0.05) probability for high BMI (OR 1.33) and high waist circumference (OR 1.43).
Conclusions: The unfavourable health and lifestyle profile, together with an old population, makes health promotion for elderly citizens a special challenge for rural communities such as those in Päijät-Häme County, Finland. Most, if not all, of the differences in health between the three community types were explained by educational background, physical activity, and smoking.