Urban-rural differences in childhood and adolescent obesity in the United States: a systematic review and meta-analysis

Child Obes. 2015 Jun;11(3):233-41. doi: 10.1089/chi.2014.0085. Epub 2015 Apr 30.


Background: A systematic literature review and subsequent meta-analysis were performed to investigate differences in childhood obesity between urban and rural areas in the United States.

Methods: A search of published studies comparing childhood obesity in urban and rural settings was undertaken by probing PubMed and Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health Literature (CINAHL) for articles that met predetermined inclusion criteria. A subsequent meta-analysis was conducted to determine the combined effect size and significance of differences in childhood obesity between urban and rural areas.

Results: Ten studies were identified for systematic review, five of which contributed to the meta-analysis. All but one study suggested that residence in rural areas was associated with higher prevalence or increased odds of childhood obesity, compared to children living in urban areas. A meta-analysis of 74,168 pooled participants ages 2-19 found that rural children have 26% greater odds of obesity, compared to urban children (odds ratio=1.26; 95% confidence interval, 1.21-1.32).

Conclusions: Obesity rates are higher among rural children than urban children in the United States. To ensure successful targeted interventions and effective resource allocation, practitioners and policy makers alike should be cognizant of this disparity in childhood obesity.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Body Mass Index
  • Child
  • Diet / statistics & numerical data*
  • Exercise
  • Humans
  • Nutrition Surveys
  • Odds Ratio
  • Pediatric Obesity / epidemiology*
  • Pediatric Obesity / prevention & control
  • Prevalence
  • Risk Factors
  • Rural Population / statistics & numerical data*
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • United States / epidemiology
  • Urban Population / statistics & numerical data*