News Center for Dissemination & Implementation

D&I Rural Health Symposium helps build “stronger collaborations in broader communities”

Written by Kim Furlow, communications manager and Ashley Sturm, manager, Center for Dissemination & Implementation at the Institute for Public Health

The Center for Dissemination and Implementation at the Institute for Public Health recently sponsored a D&I Rural Health Symposium titled, “E-connecting for healthy eating and exercising in rural communities”and presented at Innsbrook Resort in Missouri. The Symposium, which was co-chaired by Jing Li, MD and Maura Kepper, PhD, from Washington University in St. Louis, and Kevin Everett, PhD, from the University of Missouri-Columbia, was designed to convene urban and rural health and D&I experts for discussion and future action in population health.

Improving physical activity and healthy eating in rural communities is a health challenge, also a societal challenge. A university is designed to build for its community. With joined forces from Washington University in St Louis and the University of Missouri in Columbia, we can build stronger collaborations for population health in broader communities.

Jing Li, MD, co-chair of the Rural Health Symposium
Maura Kepper

“One of the best parts of this event was the diversity in the attendees,” said co-Chair, Maura Kepper, PhD, a research assistant professor at WashU’s Brown School. “Bringing together academics and practitioners from diverse communities across Missouri allowed for difficult yet necessary discussions to improve rural health using digital approaches.”

Symposium keynote speaker, Paul Estabrooks, PhD, professor and associate dean of community engagement at University of Utah, emphasized “designing interventions for equity, dissemination, and sustainability”, which refers to the extent to which the interventions/strategies match the needs, resources, workflows, and contextual characteristics of the target audience and setting. Estabrooks framed his talk by saying, The intervention that [is] designed in collaboration with the implementers [has] greater adoption and relative advantage.”

Jing Li

According to Li, rural Americans face numerous health disparities compared with their urban counterparts. Unfortunately, the majority of physical activity and nutrition research is conducted in urban and suburban settings.

A diverse group of 55 leaders from across the public health, health care, community organizations, and the academic spectrum gathered for the symposium to discuss actions and collaborative research that will promote healthy behaviors, reduce health disparities in rural communities, and advance science in digital health intervention design and delivery.

“Much of this research lags far behind the base of evidence for urban areas and is often limited by the variability in rural populations,” Li said. “As such, it is essential to understand adoption and implementation of digital health interventions within rural communities.”

In addition to WashU and Mizzou, some of the organizations represented included Unite Us, Missouri Foundation for Health, Youth in Need, MU Extension, Missouri Baptist University, Department of Health and Senior Services, Northeast Missouri Health Council, Franklin County Health Department, Jefferson County Health Department, The Oasis Institute, Missouri Alliance of YMCAs, and Southern Illinois University Edwardsville.

Dixie Duncan

Presenter Dixie Duncan, MPA, project director with the Mississippi County Health Department, noted that the symposium brought many inspiring and practical ideas together.

“Bridging the connections between both sides of the public health field is so important to help build capacity of local organizations on the front lines of implementation, while also providing researchers with the right partnerships for successful community engaged participatory research,” said Duncan.

Li adds an important point: “In order to transform problem solving from an academic exercise to systemic positive change, it is necessary for academia to be guided by its community.”

Kepper concluded, “Implementation science urges people to consider the context in which evidence-based solutions are being implemented to ensure effectiveness, equity and sustainability. This event brought together scientists with practitioners so that we could explore how solutions may fit into rural communities to promote healthy behaviors and outcomes in our region.”

Participants and organizers agreed that convening committed and engaged multi-disciplinary practitioners and their collaborative innovative thinking and ideas, will help deliver effective, practical, and lasting behavioral change interventions to improve the future health of vulnerable rural populations.  

The Rural Health Symposium was sponsored by the Center for D&I Symposium mechanism, which solicits proposals for inter-, cross, and multi-disciplinary one-day symposia. Read more about the opportunity and how to apply.