One in six Americans live in rural areas, including residents of Oktibbeha County.
While living in these rural areas rather than big cities was advantageous to the overall welfare of Americans a few decades ago, University of Mississippi Medical Center cardiologist Dr. Ervin Fox said members of rural communities have become more likely to suffer from heart disease.
The RURAL Cohort Study, the Risk Underlying Rural Areas Longitudinal Study, aims to identify why people in these areas are at a higher risk of heart, lung and blood disorders.
“We ask the question, ‘Why are those residing in rural areas more likely to die from heart disease or stroke compared to those living in urban areas?’” Fox, who is the principal investigator for RURAL study in Mississippi, said at Starkville Rotary Club’s weekly meeting Monday.
The six-year, $21.4 million project began in 2019 and will examine 4,600 recruits from 10 rural counties across the South. Funded by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, the goal of the study is to bridge the research gap by focusing on communities and areas not adequately studied previously.
Each participating state will have a few counties examined. Research first began in Alabama in late 2020 and will proceed to Mississippi in June 2022 to study two counties — one of which is Oktibbeha. Other participating states are Kentucky and Louisiana.
Of the 1,300 state participants, 750 will be from Oktibbeha County and the rest from Panola County. Ages range from 25-64, and all ethnicities will be represented based on population.
“It had to be a rural county,” Fox said. “These two counties are matched (for the study) specifically in terms of mortality. They’re matched in terms of income, and they’re matched in terms of ethnicity across the county.”
In order to identify rural health problems, the Mississippi RURAL Study team will examine daily activities of participants, such as eating conditions, heart health procedures, water supply access and home environment while also bringing education on how to live healthier lives into the communities.
“We want to understand how the entire population is affected,” Fox said.
Oktibbeha County’s research site will be located at OCH Regional Medical Center. The study’s “mobile exam unit” is equipped with the state of the art medical equipment to perform CT scans, electrocardiograms and lab work, Fox said.
To determine the best methods of operation, Fox said he has been working closely with members of the community, such as OCH CEO Jim Jackson, Starkville physician Dr. Emily Landrum and Mississippi State University associate professor David Buys.
“Each of the state (teams) engage the community,” Fox said. “They help understand what the community considers their biggest health concerns, what are the biggest interests in terms of health.”
Fox said his team is still recruiting individuals to participate in the study. He said he hopes to find people not only in Starkville but other areas of the county as well, such as Maben and Sturgis.
He said he is hopeful for the outcome and results of the study because not much research has been conducted on the health conditions of rural residents. He said the goal is for the research results to help guide future programs to improve the health of all rural communities across the country.
“We just want to determine the reasons why we have the rural (disadvantage) and how we can address them,” Fox said.