What sets physically active rural communities apart from less active ones? A comparative case study of three us counties

Christiaan G. Abildso, Cynthia K. Perry, Lauren Jacobs, M. Renée Umstattd Meyer, Megan McClendon, Michael B. Edwards, James N. Roemmich, Zachary Ramsey, Margaret Stout

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Background: Rural US communities experience health disparities, including a lower prevalence of physical activity (PA). However, “Positive Deviants”—rural communities with greater PA than their peers—exist. The purpose of this study was to identify the factors that help create physically active rural US communities. Methods: Stakeholder interviews, on-site intercept interviews, and in-person observations were used to form a comparative case study of two rural counties with high PA prevalence (HPAs) and one with low PA prevalence (LPA) from a southern US state, se-lected based on rurality and adult PA prevalence. Interview transcripts were inductively coded by three readers, resulting in a thematic structure that aligned with a Community Capital Framework, which was then used for deductive coding and analysis. Results: Fifteen stakeholder interviews, nine intercept interviews, and on-site observations were conducted. Human and Organizational Capital differed between the HPAs and LPA, manifesting as Social, Built, Financial, and Political Capital differences and a possible “spiraling-up” or cyclical effect through increasing PA and health (Human Capital), highlighting a potential causal model for future study. Conclusions: Multi-organ-izational PA coalitions may hold promise for rural PA by directly influencing Human and Organizational Capital in the short term and the other forms of capital in the long term.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number574
JournalInternational journal of environmental research and public health
Issue number20
StatePublished - Oct 2 2021


  • Community capital framework
  • Comparative case study
  • Physical activity
  • Positive deviance
  • Qualitative research
  • Rural health

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


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