Cutler Institute for Health and Social Policy

Maine Rural Health Research Center, Population Health and Health Policy

How Does The Rural Food Environment Affect Rural Childhood Obesity?

Abstract: 

This article by Muskie School researchers assesses the impact of the rural food environment on the eating behaviors and BMI of rural low-income children, using a statewide (Maine, 2009) household survey of parents of children on Medicaid, oversampled in six rural communities, resulting in n=272 for six target communities. The food environment was measured using modified Nutrition Environment Measures Survey in Stores (NEMS-S) for 46 retail food outlets. Multi-variate analysis assessed factors affecting home food environment, child's eating behavior and BMI.

Results: Home food behaviors (how often: family eats together, child eats breakfast, vegetables served) and parent food consumption were significantly associated with children's healthy eating behaviors. The only significant predictor of childhood obesity was parent eating behavior. We observed several alternative strategies such as hunting, gathering and buying from local farmers. Parents who drove over 20 miles to shop were found to shop at stores with higher NEMS scores as compared to parents who drove shorter distances.

Conclusion: Defining and identifying "food deserts" is not a promising approach to measuring the rural food environment due to long distance trips, careful price shopping, and local, alternative strategies. Strategies to place healthier food in the home should be combined with interventions directed at parents' and families' eating behaviors.

Suggested Citation: Hartley, D., Anderson, N., Fox, K., & Lenardson, J. (2011). How does the rural food environment affect rural childhood obesity? Childhood Obesity, 7(6), 450-461.

Publication Type: 
Journal Article
Publish Date: 
December 31, 2011
URL: 
http://healthyeatingresearch.org/research/how-does-the-rural-food-environment-affect-rural-childhood-obesity/

Cutler Institute awarded $600,000 to help youth raised in foster system

Marty Zanghi

USM's Cutler Institute for Health and Social Policy has been awarded a $600,000 grant to help young people raised in Maine's foster system to prepare for college and the workforce.

The money comes from the Annie E. Casey Foundation as part of a $5.4 million national effort aimed at youth who are homeless or in either the foster care or juvenile justice systems.

"Many of these young people have suffered abuse or trauma and were raised in poverty and neglect," said Marty Zanghi, the Cutler Center's youth development director.

The money -- including an expected $400,000 more in matching funds -- will pay for contracted work with agencies in the target areas, starting with the greater Portland area and Penobscot, Kennebec and Somerset counties.

Nationally and in Maine, only about 3 percent of people who grow up in the foster care system achieve a college degree, he said.

"It's dramatically lower than the rate for the general population," Zanghi said. "It's a horrible outcome."

It doesn't have to be that way, though.

"There are young people that overcome these circumstances," he said. "I know people who have master's degrees and Ph.Ds."

The Casey Foundation's national effort is being called the "Learn and Earn to Achieve Potential" (LEAP) initiative.

The initiative is working on partnerships in Maine and nine other areas: Alaska, Arizona, California, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska and New York. In each case, people will adapt two evidence-based models to meet the needs of these youth, including support to address the trauma they may have experienced in their lives.

In Maine, the work will include a pair of successful programs, Jobs for Maine Graduates (JMG) and Jobs for the Future. Results will be carefully tracked, Zanghi said.

After the first year, the program is expected to grow.

"Eventually, the additional help will be available to all children, 14 and over, in the foster care system in the state of Maine," Zanghi said.

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