Extending place-based studies of activities of individuals and their consequences for health and well-being from urban to rural settings

NC Farm

The overarching aim of this assessment was to evaluate the feasibility of a place-based data collection approach (i.e. the space they move through during the course of the day, and measures of their overall well-being) in more remote areas – spaces which pose both technological and logistical challenges – so that other investigators might more easily and effectively implement such an approach moving forward. 

The pilot: (1) used the similar protocols from the NIA funded Activity Space, Social Interaction and Health Trajectories in Later Life study, (2) was implemented in both rural and non-rural settings in North Carolina; (3) was administered remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic; and (4) utilized participant’s own smart phone for momentary data collection. Pilot participants were drawn from two ongoing studies, The Great Smoky Mountain Study (GSMS) and the Adaptive, Interests, Skills and Environments (RAISE) study.

Using a smartphone app, the pilot identified latitude, longitude, and distance traveled to describe respondents’ physical activity spaces over a week-long period, and to obtain real-time reports of social settings, health status, and well-being using Ecological Momentary Assessment (EMA), that reveal day-to-day fluctuations in social environment and emotional and physical health.

The assessment was able to effectively evaluate the feasibility of collecting activity space data across a range of geographic locations. Preliminary findings present important implications for comparative work, and for research in remote areas where other forms of data collection might not be logistically or monetarily possible. 

The challenges identified through implementation of this innovative approach are addressable, and likely future technological advancements will make data acquisition and retrieval more effective in the near future. The assessment suggests great promise in activity space approaches, and the integration of such work with other forms of data collection.

Our report, Examining Daily Activity Space in Rural and Non-Rural Settings; A Feasibility Study, provides a detailed narrative on this pilot assessment.