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Interactions of Individual, Family, Community, and Policy Contexts on the Mental and Physical Health of Diverse Rural Low-income Families
Community and Leadership Development
The purpose of this multi-state project is to examine the effects of interactions among individual, family, community, and policy contexts on the physical and mental health outcomes for rural low-income families. It extends the previous research conducted within the multi-state projects NC223 and NC1011.
Good mental and physical health are important for quality of life. However, research shows rural residents experience health disparities in the incidence, prevalence, morbidity, and mortality rates for disease. Understanding the factors or combination of factors that contribute to these disparities can help to improve the quality of life among low-income rural families.
Investigators in this project will collect quantitative and qualitative data from approximately 600 families living in ten states. Data will be collected on health outcomes, family and individual level characteristics, community factors, and policies affecting low-income families. Quantitative data will be collected in years 2 and 4, and in-depth qualitative data will be collected in year 3. Data will be analyzed to assess the independent and combined contributions of individual, family, community, and policy contexts on health outcomes for the participating families.
As a result of this project, we expect to the body of knowledge regarding the well-being of rural communities and diverse rural low-income families. A better understanding of rural family health can lead to better quality of life and therefore sustainable rural communities. Families who are not healthy are not able to contribute to their communities, socially or economically. The study will provide data for customizing programs and public policy to meet the needs of rural America. It also will expand the capacity of the land-grant system to educate and train graduate student researchers; enrich the curricula of courses in sociology, economics, family studies, nutrition and health; inform the programming that Cooperative Extension offers to families and communities across each state; and extend expertise of the system to citizens in support of the prosperity of rural America.
2011 Project Description
A major accomplishment was launching the new wave of data collection. Funding for the 60 interviews of low-income rural mothers from Appalachian counties was made possible by a $12,000 grant from the University of Kentucky Center for Poverty Research through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation.
Interview data was submitted to University of Nebraska Lincoln for merging with data from other participating states. Initial findings related to health and housing from the Kentucky sample were presented at the Rural Sociological Society meeting. The combined state dataset will be ready for further analyses in spring 2012.
In addition, eight of our interviewees completed an extra qualitative protocol relating to Core Health Messages made possible by the Rural Health and Safety Education Competitive Program of the USDA Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service. These data were also merged with responses from other participating states for development of national recommendations for health literacy programming.
Additionally, analyses continued on data collected from former NC223/1011 projects. Contributions were made to an edited book and symposium at the National Council on Family Relations relating to the context and problems for rural families and work as well as the policy implications thereof. Several journal articles are in revise and resubmit status.
Findings from our work in Kentucky show that poverty and health status are consistently linked for rural families, and the recursive nature of the relationships between poverty and poverty-related household characteristics (e.g., food insecurity, poor quality housing) and family health status may contribute to a cycle of poverty.
We continue to see how health barriers within the family affect sustained employment for the family as a whole. Results of our qualitative analysis illustrate how mothers own health is not the only barrier to employment, often partner or child's health play a large role. Analyses of barriers to employment for these women highlighted food insecurity, mental health, caring for a young child, housing, and a family history of welfare as associated with less stable employment patterns.
In addition, the ability to meet basic needs of housing, food security, and health services is particularly challenging for low income rural families with children. There exists a complex interplay of household and community context factors that underlie a families' ability to access resources to meet their needs including income, outside assistance, food security, stable employment, adult health, and knowledge and accessibility of community resources.
Bauer, J.W., Dyk, P.H., Son, S., & Dolan, E.M. (2011). Rural does matter: Understanding the rural context. In J. W. Bauer & E.M. Dolan (Eds). Rural families and work: Context and problems (pp. 37-54). New York: Springer Science + Business Media, LLC.
Son, S., Dyk, P.H., Bauer, J.W., & Katras, M.J. Barriers to employment among low-income mothers in rural United States communities. International Journal of Human Ecology 12 (June 2011): 37-49.