Ann Berry, Ph.D., University of Tennessee
Professor of Family and Consumer Sciences and
Consumer Economics Extension State Specialist
Kimberly Greder, Ph.D., Iowa State University
Professor of Human Development and Family Studies
Family Life Extension State Specialist
This special edition of The Forum for Family & Consumer Issues highlights research findings and implications associated with two multistate USDA Hatch Act–funded research projects, Rural Families Speak (RFS) (1998–2008) and Rural Families Speak about Health (RFSH) (2009–2014). Collectively, RFS and RFSH studied more than 1,000 low-income families across rural America. The RFS project was launched in response to the 1996 welfare reform legislation as a mechanism to identify impacts of the legislation on the lives of rural, low-income families. Although health was not the primary focus of RFS, findings revealed that concerns about personal health and access to healthcare were prevalent among rural, low-income families and affected multiple aspects of their lives. Thus, the RFSH project aimed to identify health issues experienced by rural, low-income families and associated factors and mechanisms.
Implications identified by the studies in this special edition can help strengthen existing efforts, as well as inform new ones, by Extension and other community-based organizations that aim to improve rural, low-income family health and well-being. Given the increased recognition of the prevalence of health disparities across rural America, this special edition is particularly timely.
In this special edition, Routh and colleagues share findings related to rural health disparities. They discuss findings related to the cyclical nature of depressive symptoms, factors influencing household nutrition and physical activity, the importance of social supports, and families’ use of health information. Recommendations for Extension such as delivery through mobile formats, reaching multiple family members with education, and building on Policy, Systems, and Environment approaches are provided. In another article, Sano and colleagues share findings related to the development of messages to promote food security that resonate with rural, low-income mothers. They discuss mothers’ preferences for short messages that relate to specific challenges they experience. Bird and colleagues discuss the potential impact of proposals advanced in the 2018 Farm Bill legislation regarding stricter work requirements placed on Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) participants and the effect of these changes on the food security and health of families. In their paper they propose alternative approaches to stricter work requirements to help ensure economic and health security for families.
Two papers (Greder and colleagues; Yancura and colleagues) focus on specific subgroups of rural families – Latinx families and multigenerational families. Latinx is a gender-neutral term for individuals originating from Latin America. Greder and colleagues highlight the growth of the Latinx population across rural America and their contributions to community prosperity and economic security. The authors call for Extension to take bold actions to embrace the strengths and to address the needs and desires of Latinx families. Recommendations for strengthening Extension’s engagement with Latinxs are provided. Yancura and colleagues explore grandparent family involvement and highlight their contributions such as stabilizing families through routines. They emphasize the importance of looking beyond the “traditional” family when designing programs and providing services in order to adequately respond to the complexity and uniqueness of multigenerational families.
This collection of research highlights the richness and diversity of rural, low-income family experiences. Importantly, these papers suggest and elevate approaches known to be effective as pathways to improved conditions for rural, low-income families and other families similarly situated.