What contributes to rural obesity?

ruralobesity Feb 03, 2021

Rural obesity is multifactorial, with the main factors involving limited access to healthcare services and a lack of knowledge. Today, we will dive more deeply into the reasons behind rural obesity and what can be done to improve community health outcomes.


A bit of history

From 1985, a 30-year study was conducted, looking into obesity rates across geographical locations. Initially, results indicated that those in rural areas were 75% more likely to be a healthy weight than those living in the city. However, since this first stat, the results have flipped, and those in rural areas are more likely to be overweight or obese.


So, what are some of the reasons behind rural obesity?

  1. Income is generally lower. This means that people have less of an ability to purchase healthy food.
  2. Lack of environmental support. There are fewer parks, pathways, and exercise equipment in rural areas compared to metropolitan areas.
  3. Less access to healthcare facilities. The number of public and private healthcare facilities available is fewer in rural areas. 
  4. Geographical location. People are required to drive more, as facilities are generally more spread out. This also reduces the amount of incidental exercise, like bike riding or walking. Additionally, because rural areas are further from the city, the fresh produce cost increases as more work is required to transport these products. Research has discovered that fruit and vegetables in The Gulf were about $10 more expensive compared to that in the city.
  5. More fast-food outlets. There is generally a higher density of fast-food outlets in lower socioeconomic areas, like McDonald's and KFC. Also, research has shown that some fast-food outlets in rural areas raise the prices, which mean people have less money to spend on fresh food.


What can we do to fight rural obesity?

This is a complicated question to answer. It requires collaboration between the government, key stakeholders, and consumers (like your regular Joe Blow). However, with policy, legislation and behaviour change, we could be better equipped to manage rural obesity.  

  • The government could put a tax on fast food and make it more expensive. This revenue could subsidise the cost of healthy food.
  • There could be an increase in the number of health services and allied health practitioners in rural areas. This may involve providing incentives for people to work in rural areas, like a higher income or more holiday pay.
  • Supermarkets could remove the number of discretionary food items on display, thus reducing the associated temptation. This could be done by:
    • Removing chocolate and lollies from the counter, in an attempt to avoid 'last-minute' purchases.
    • Creating confectionary-free aisles and removing the temptation of energy-dense, nutrient-poor snacks.
    • Removing junk food from eye-level product placement, again removing the temptation.

Strategies to optimise nutrition in rural areas.

  1. Purchase frozen fruit and vegetables. Frozen produce is generally cheaper, lasts for longer and holds its nutritional quality better than unfrozen food.
  2. Set up a community vegetable garden. Create an environment where people can safely learn about vegetables and begin incorporating them into the diet.
  3. Use the available environment to support healthy movement. This may include going for a walk with friends or using playground equipment for chin-ups.


Fighting the obesity epidemic is not an easy task, especially in regional and remote areas. However, we all need to step up, take action and advocate for change. This involves everybody collaborating together to support a wholesome environment built on optimising nutrition and physical activity. If you have further questions or want to know more about fighting rural obesity, book a CQ Nutrition consult.


Here is a link to book in with one of our expert dietitians at any of our locations https://www.cqnutrition.com.au/booking/ 

Want an online consultation? Book in on my calendar and in the comments write 'online': https://bit.ly/AnnieROK 

Written by Annabel Johnston, BAppSc&MDietPrac & GCertDiabSt


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