CREATIVE SOLUTIONS AT THE HEART OF RURAL COMMUNITIES: INTERVIEW WITH MR. RENEE UMSTATTD MEYER

The first guest was Dr. Mr. Renee Umstattd Meyer, Associate Professor at Baylor University and lead author of The Front Porch Idea. Its work is focused on promoting health and well-being throughout working life.

More rural areas often lead the country to poor practices and the prevalence of chronic disease, which is why a recent study described the “rural punishment” of 134.7 deaths per person. 100,000 in 2016. Not surprisingly, the density of the exercise code of conduct is about 22% lower in rural areas than in developed cities in the United States, despite progress since 2008.

Along with Dr. Umstattd Meyer, he’s recording our conversations in our galleries, so be sure to watch the video (below) or listen to the audio (also below).

A Passion for Rural Active Living

He is fascinated by the rural work of this origin and the life research work developed by Jim Sallis over the past 20 years or more. In particular, he has worked extensively on identifying rural differences, building rural evidence, and tailoring programs to meet many rural situations.

During our discussion, he spoke about the relationship between the community of work and the research that started at the discussion table and the many meetings of the General Assembly and continued to meet as a group of staff with the logistical support of the organization funded by the CDC.  Project of particular interest of the Prevention Research Center called the Occupational Health Research Network (PAPRN). According to the PAPRN, this is the case with local civil society groups. Initial work under the PAPRN organized by the University of Washington resulted in a document review process. Recent work under PAPRN +, sponsored by the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, focuses on identifying the most active rural activities, as well as the network going to PAPREN, which UMass Worcester of the University of Illinois in Chicago, identified as a team of environmentalists an important role for rural libraries in promoting exercise and interdisciplinary interventions.

Play in the streets and rural areas

Dr. Umstattd Meyer discusses his work with Drs. Keshia Pollack Porter and the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Health are renovating Play Streets in rural areas with support from RWJF, which is funded by Occupational Health. Our approach to how Play Streets works is a good example of how to deal with the lack of evidence from rural areas and misconceptions about what “rural” means, as described in the previous paper, Rural Life: Active Appeal.

We focus on two specific calls for the document:

1. End the practice of treating rural settings as “less populated urban areas” due to the unique social, cultural, and environmental contexts of rural communities, and

2. Recognize, understand, and plan for the diversity that exists in the rural continuum when it is researched or practiced in rural areas.

Renée spoke about the unique environmental context of rural settings, in particular, that Play Streets typically took place in parks, parking lots, or open spaces because the rural towns involved couldn’t close the main street to a Play Street because there were too few other streets to drive diversion traffic. She also highlighted the diversity of children and partners involved at each site: the partnership in predominantly Caucasian Oakland, Maryland, with a health department; working with a predominantly African American church in Warrenton, North Carolina; collaborate with the Choctaw Nation in Talihina, Oklahoma, predominantly Native American; and with the Cooperative Extension office primarily in Latino Cameron, Texas.

Key Take-Home Messages

Play Streets made it possible for children to be active and socially engage residents; and, instead of a parent watching children from their apartment window on an urban playground, people drove through rural playgrounds, even from the nearby city, so their children would have a free place to play with other children and spending social time for adults. Another key finding is that Play Streets in rural communities have been combined or ‘coupled’ with key community events, such as a back-to-school event or a summer feeding program because transportation poses real challenges and the workforce is very limited in rural areas, it is important to combine events to increase access to more families and for successful implementation.

Creativity and Innovation

We end by talking about what Renée has the most hope for in this rural physical activity line of work. There is a unifying force and a willingness to take ownership of this work, add to what they are already doing, do something good for the children of their communities and unite generations for something positive. There is also a system element; by partnering with people who are not traditionally involved in physical activity or health promotion, she sees how they can integrate physical activity into their current practice, thus effectively increasing the workforce.

How Does Dr. Umstattd Meyer Stay Active?

He likes to ride his bike on rural Texas roads to feel free (and maybe sing at the same time), walk or walks with others to socialize and dance with his kids, whatever, be it music. So if you hear someone riding their bike past you on rural Texas roads, be sure to yell “Thanks for all your hard work, Renee!”