Christie Befort of the University of Kansas Medical Center said there might be two significant reasons why rural residents are more likely to be overweight -- cultural diet and physical isolation.
The researchers analyzed data of the National Center for Health Statistics that used measured heights and weights of people. Previous studies relied on self-reported data, which typically underestimate the prevalence of obesity, Befort said.
The study, published in the Journal of Rural Health, found rural Americans typically consume a diet higher in fat.
The research demonstrated the rural-urban obesity disparity existed in younger Americans, ages 20-39, but not in older age groups. Befort said this could be partially attributed to increased mechanization of previously labor-intensive jobs.
"There is a definite cultural diet in rural America, full of rich, homemade foods including lots of meat and dessert," Befort said in a statement. "Access -- healthcare, prevention and lifestyle activities -- is often about travel time in a rural area, but it can also be that there's no place to go. It's tough to get to a gym if you live outside of a town without one."