In a new study by researchers in the University of Maryland School of Public Health, rural low-income mothers, who generally face limited access to health care, participated in focus groups on health messages and helped to design messages that resonated with them. Led by Dr. Linda Aldoory, director of the Herschel S. Horowitz Center for Health Literacy and an associate professor in the department of behavioral and community health, the study was designed to reveal factors in health messages that could improve health-related decisions by rural, low-income mothers.
Past research shows that rural populations generally deal with greater health risks than urban populations and may lack access to health care providers and health insurance, as well as face long travel times to providers. The research team, drawing upon empowerment theory, sought to find out how rural low-income mothers perceive their self-efficacy and personal control in making health decisions and what components of health messages increase perception of self-efficacy and personal control.
Through nine focus groups with forty-three women, an ethnically and racially diverse group of rural mothers provided feedback on dental health, food security, and physical activity-related health messages. In these discussions, women discussed their perceptions of personal control and barriers in taking care of their own health and that of their children. The focus groups also helped design messages regarding physical activity, addressing a variety of factors from message length to emotional appeal.
The mothers highlighted current health messages’ lack of resonance within their own everyday lives, which led to participants’ recommendations for health messages that target their needs. Participants’ recommendations included messages that address mothers’ daily constraints; rely on a spokesperson with a similar identity as a rural mother; present facts from scientific and medical sources; suggest small steps toward better health; focus on positive and not negative actions or outcomes; and use stories to provide health guidance.
Published in Women & Health, the study’s findings provide insights into how health messages could be crafted to empower and resonate with low-income, rural mothers.