Development of the Rural Active Living Assessment Tools

Measuring Rural Environments

Increasing obesity is not just an urban problem. Since the 1980s, obesity rates among adults and children living in rural America have been rising. But much of the research on how to make people’s daily lives more physically active has been confined to cities. The purpose of this project was to develop tools researchers and community members could use to assess how friendly specific rural communities are to active lifestyles. Seven communities in Mississippi, Alabama, California, Kentucky and Maine were involved in some stage of the creation and testing of the Rural Active Living Assessment (RALA) tools.

Key Findings:

  • This project is based on earlier work by these same researchers which determined factors related to a rural community’s physical, programmatic and policy environments all influence activity levels within that community.
  • Based on this conceptual framework, three RALA tools were developed, tested and refined: The Town-Wide Assessment, which looks at broad-level characteristics and recreational amenities; the Program and Policy Assessment, which reviews government and school policies related to physical activity; and the Street-Segment Assessment, which collects information specific to thoroughfares, such as traffic, surrounding land use, walkability, etc.
  • In addition, a Codebook was written to guide users, including relatively untrained community members, through the assessment process using the RALA tools.
  • The assessment questions, as well as the technology and training required to administer the RALA tools, were intentionally limited to make the assessments accessible and easy to use.
  • Testing has shown the Town-Wide and Program and Policy Assessments are feasible for community members to implement. Testing to see whether different raters came up with similar results using the Street-Segment Assessment showed substantial agreement.
The authors note their present work focused on RALA tool development, refinement, feasibility and inter-rater reliability testing. It did not determine validity of the assessments; nor develop a scoring mechanism to rate the activity-friendliness of rural areas. The authors note the RALA tools should be applied flexibly by each community, and tested in additional communities and with an eye to the diversity of populations. These tools are just one set of resources to begin to support the development of rural environments that encourage active living.