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New Study to Examine Why People in the Rural South Have Worse Health


The investigation will span six years, compiling a huge trove of data that could unlock population health secrets.


A new study is underway to understand why people born in the rural South live shorter and less healthy lives than other individuals — and it will also bring diagnostic tests to disadvantaged populations.

“We aim to understand the rural health challenges in the south and share our findings with and offer health education to these rural communities,” said Vasan Ramachandran, M.D., principal investigator from Boston University’s School of Medicine.

The Risk Underlying Rural Areas Longitudinal Study (RURAL) will be conducted by researchers from the Los Angeles Biomedical Research Institute (LA BioMed) and 15 other institutions across the U.S. They hope to learn what causes the high burden of heart, lung, blood and sleep disorders in the South.

“The truly exciting thing about this research is we are working with multiple investigators from across the southeast to develop and maintain community engagement in addition to participant engagement,” said Suzanna Judd, Ph.D., co-principal investigator and professor in the biostatistics department at the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Public Health.

The researchers will recruit and study 4,000 participants from 10 of the most economically disadvantaged rural counties in southern Appalachia and Mississippi Delta and parts of the rural south.

LA BioMed researchers will be responsible for cardiovascular testing, including heart scans and blood vessel health, and genetics components of the study.

“We are excited about being part of the most important cardiovascular study facing our nation today, specifically why there is such a disparity in health in those who live in the rural south,” said Matthew Budoff, M.D., who leads the LA BioMed study team. “We hope to find those factors that are causing excess harm and be able to address these risks to improve the health of this population.”

The researchers will use a self-contained mobile clinic that will be built by investigators from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Risk for heart, lung, blood and sleep disorders will be recorded, as well as familial, lifestyle and behavioral factors.

“This clinic will bring technology to rural communities that might not have ready access to specific types of diagnostic tests,” Judd said.

The six-year, $21.4 million study is being funded by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institution and will include more than 50 investigators from 16 different institutions.

Researchers from the University of Louisville, Louisiana State University’s Pennington Biomedical Research Center, University of Mississippi Medical Center and University of Alabama at Birmingham will play a central role in recruitment, retention, follow-up, data return, return of results, community engagement and education.

“The rural health challenge in the south does not spare any race or ethnicity,” Ramachandran said. “These high-risk and economically disadvantaged rural communities are vulnerable to clusters of multiple health problems.”

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