Obesity in low-income rural women: qualitative insights about physical activity and eating patterns

Women Health. 2006;44(1):57-78. doi: 10.1300/J013v44n01_04.


Body weight is inversely related to socioeconomic status (SES) in women in the United States (U.S.). Reasons for the social differential in weight are poorly understood. This investigation sought to understand overweight and obesity from the perspective of low-income mothers living in rural New York State, focusing in particular on challenges to maintaining a healthy weight that may be unique to rural poverty. In-depth interviews with 28 women, who were interviewed 3 times over a 3-year period, were audiotaped, transcribed, and analyzed using the constant comparative method. Findings suggest that transportation difficulties confined some women to their homes, which were physical settings offering little opportunity for physical activity. Food insecurity and associated fluctuating household food supplies contributed to disordered eating patterns and to perceptions of dietary deprivation that affected food intake. Rural isolation contributed to negative emotional states that some women alleviated by eating. This research elucidates factors contributing to obesity among rural, economically disadvantaged women, highlighting the interplay between the structural constraints imposed by rural poverty and women's physical activity, eating patterns, body image, and weight. These insights further the understanding of social inequalities in health and could inform the design of future research aimed at improving the health status of low-income women and families.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attitude to Health
  • Exercise / psychology*
  • Feeding Behavior / psychology*
  • Female
  • Health Behavior*
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • New York
  • Obesity / prevention & control
  • Obesity / psychology*
  • Poverty*
  • Rural Population*
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Waist-Hip Ratio
  • Women's Health