Environmental factors associated with physical activity in rural U.S. counties

Christiaan G. Abildso, Shay M. Daily, M. Renée Umstattd Meyer, Michael B. Edwards, Lauren Jacobs, Megan McClendon, Cynthia K. Perry, James N. Roemmich

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Background: Rural U.S. adults’ prevalence of meeting physical activity (PA) guidelines is lower than urban adults, yet rural-urban differences in environmental influences of adults’ PA are largely unknown. The study’s objective was to identify rural-urban variations in environmental factors associated with the prevalence of adults meeting PA guidelines. Methods: County-level data for non-frontier counties (n = 2697) were used. A five-category rurality variable was created using the percentage of a county’s population living in a rural area. Factor scores from Factor Analyses (FA) were used in subsequent Multiple Linear Regression (MLR) analyses stratified by rurality to identify associations between environmental factor scores and the prevalence of males and females meeting PA guidelines. Results: FA revealed a 13-variable, four-factor structure of natural, social, recreation, and transportation environments. MLR revealed that natural, social, and recreation environments were associated with PA for males and females, with variation by sex for social environment. The natural environment was associated with PA in all but urban counties; the recreation environment was associated with PA in the urban counties and the two most rural counties. Conclusions: Variations across the rural-urban continuum in environmental factors associated with adults’ PA, highlight the uniqueness of rural PA and the need to further study what succeeds in creating active rural places.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number7688
JournalInternational journal of environmental research and public health
Issue number14
StatePublished - Jul 2 2021


  • Physical activity
  • Positive deviance
  • Rural health
  • Social-ecological

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pollution
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis


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