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University of Iowa News Release

Oct. 2, 2003

UI Study Serves As Springboard For Rural Health Research

Residents of Keokuk County, Iowa, are helping University of Iowa researchers shed light on health issues that affect rural communities. More than 1,000 households are currently taking part in the Keokuk County Rural Health Study (KCRHS), a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention-sponsored study of the relationship between health and rural environmental exposures. In addition, many residents are also participating in numerous "spin-off" projects related to the main study.

The KCRHS, now in its 12th year of a planned 20 years of investigation, is led by researchers in the Great Plains Center for Agricultural Health, based in the UI College of Public Health. Over the years, the study has generated more than a dozen related studies and projects focusing on various aspects of rural health.

"As we have collected and analyzed data from the main study, we have identified several modifiable health outcomes and risk behaviors as targets for community-based prevention and intervention programs," said James Merchant, M.D., Dr.P.H., principal investigator of the KCRHS, UI professor and dean of the College of Public Health. "Thanks to the continued dedicated participation of Keokuk County residents, we have the opportunity to learn how to make rural communities healthier and safer places to live."

Among the most recent projects underway are:

-- Community Health Action Partnership (CHAP), a community-based project addressing health promotion and disease prevention. UI researchers from the Prevention Research Center and other colleagues are working with community groups in Keokuk County to identify health issues of importance and develop and implement strategies to address these issues. Initial focus areas include healthy eating and exercise, developing walking trails and preventing youth alcohol abuse.

-- Iowa Hearing Loss Prevention Project (I-HeLP), a school-based hearing conservation program. Research has shown that there is a high prevalence of hearing impairment in rural areas. Working with fourth and seventh graders in Keokuk County schools, the hearing conservation program will develop and estimate the effectiveness of two hearing conservation programs for use with students in other rural schools.

-- Fire Safety Program, a study of smoke detector use in rural homes. As part of an effort to better understand how different types of smoke alarms function in rural households, a randomized trial will test two major smoke detection and battery technologies. Free smoke alarms are being distributed and installed in 800 homes participating in the KCRHS; the study team will check to see how they are working after 18 and 42 months. The results will help homeowners and builders determine which types of smoke alarms are best suited for different types of homes and for different locations within homes.

Another project, the Rural Childhood Asthma Study (RCAS), examined childhood asthma in Keokuk and Louisa counties. Researchers found that children in the sample population had surprisingly high rates of asthma -- 13 percent had been diagnosed with asthma and 19 percent took medication for wheezing -- similar to rates found in large U.S. cities. An asthma counselor visited Keokuk County families enrolled in RCAS several times during the study year to educate them about environmental triggers that aggravate asthma and effective strategies for managing the symptoms. The counselor also informed participants' health care providers about counseling sessions and current asthma symptoms.

Other related studies have examined farm family pesticide exposure, airway obstruction and musculoskeletal disorders among farmers and zoonotic (animal to human) pathogens, including West Nile virus, influenza A and tickborne diseases.

The KCRHS is funded by the CDC's National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. For more information about the Keokuk County Rural Health Study, call the research office in Sigourney at 641-622-2371 or 800-551-0451.

STORY SOURCE: The University of Iowa College of Public Health Office of Communications, 4257 Westlawn, Iowa City, Iowa 52242.

CONTACTS: KCRHS questions: Ann Stromquist, 319-335-4232; Media: Dan McMillan, 319-335-6835, Writer: Debra Venzke

GRAPHIC: The KCRHS logo is available on the center's web site: