Background: Obesity levels are higher in rural versus urban children. Multi-level community-based interventions can be effective in promoting healthy child weight, but few of such interventions have focused on rural children. This formative study assessed barriers, facilitators, and opportunities to promote healthy child weight in two rural communities.
Methods: Multiple data collection methods were used concurrently in two rural communities in Indiana and North Carolina. Focus groups and interviews were conducted with participants, including parents of children aged 2-5 years (n = 41), childcare providers (n = 13), and stakeholders from 23 community organizations. Observational audits were conducted at 19 food outlets (grocery stores) and 50 publicly-accessible physical activity resources. Focus groups/interviews were analyzed thematically. Surveys were analyzed using descriptive statistics, Fisher's exact test, and t-tests.
Results: Family level barriers included limited financial resources and competing priorities, whereas parental role-modeling was perceived as a facilitator of healthy weight behaviors. At the organizational level, childcare providers and community stakeholders cited limited funding and poor parental engagement in health promotion programs as barriers. Childcare providers explained that they were required to comply with strict nutrition and physical activity guidelines, but expressed concerns that similar messages were not reinforced at home. Facilitators at the organizational level included healthy meals provided at no cost at childcare programs, and health promotion programs offered through community organizations. At the community level, lack of public transportation, and limited access to healthy food outlets and physical activity-promoting resources posed barriers, whereas existing physical activity resources (e.g., parks) and some ongoing investment to improve physical activity resources in the community were assets. In designing/implementing a potential child obesity prevention intervention, participants discussed the need to garner community trust, emphasize wellness instead of obesity prevention, establish community partnerships, and leverage existing community resources.
Conclusions: Rural areas experience multiple challenges that make it difficult for children/families to engage in healthy weight behaviors. This study highlights several assets (existing programs/resources, expertise within communities) that can be leveraged as facilitators. Findings will guide the study team in developing a child obesity prevention intervention for the two rural communities.
Keywords: Childhood obesity; Community engagement; Nutrition; Physical activity; Preschool-aged children; Rural.
© 2023. The Author(s).