A multilevel approach for promoting physical activity in rural communities: A cluster randomized controlled trial

Alan M. Beck, Amy A. Eyler, J. Aaron Hipp, Abby C. King, Rachel G. Tabak, Yan Yan, Rodrigo S. Reis, Dixie D. Duncan, Amanda S. Gilbert, Natalicio H. Serrano, Ross C. Brownson

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23 Scopus citations


Background: Physical activity (PA) has demonstrated a decreased risk in various cancers and other chronic diseases; however, rural residents are less likely to attain recommended levels of PA compared to urban and suburban counterparts. Given rural residents make up 15% of the United States population, there is a need for novel approaches to increase PA among this population. The goal of the present study is to investigate the effectiveness of a multilevel intervention to increase PA rates among rural residents. Methods/design: Guided by an ecological framework, a group-randomized design will be used to evaluate the effects of a three-level intervention for increasing PA among adult residents residing in 6 rural communities (n = 600) along with 6 control communities (n = 600). The intervention includes components at the individual (short message service [SMS] text messages), interpersonal (social support in walking groups), and community levels (events at existing trails). Innovative methods to encourage participation will be employed as well as a focus on life priorities (family, recreation, hobbies) other than health. Aim 1 includes a literature review and key informant interviews to determine the local contexts for intervention adaptation. Aim 2 will employ a set of interventions at the individual, interpersonal, and community-levels to evaluate their impact on moderate-to-vigorous PA as measured by self-reported (telephone survey) and objectively assessed (accelerometry) measures. These data are supplemented by location based on Global Positioning System and community audits, which provide information on recreational amenities, programs/policies, and street segments. Discussion: This study is among the first of its kind to test a multilevel intervention in a rural setting, address life priorities that compliment health outcomes, and examine moderation between behavioral interventions and the natural environments where people are physically active. Our results will influence the field by enhancing the ability to scale-up innovative, PA interventions with the potential to reach high-risk, rural populations. Trial registration: Clinical Trials NCT03683173, September 25, 2018.

Original languageEnglish
Article number126
JournalBMC Public Health
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 30 2019


  • Cancer prevention
  • Physical activity
  • Rural residents


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