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Open Access Research article

Measuring participant rurality in Web-based interventions

Brian G Danaher1*, L Gary Hart2, H Garth McKay1 and Herbert H Severson1

Author affiliations

1 Oregon Research Institute, 1715 Franklin Boulevard, Eugene, OR 97403 USA

2 WWAMI Rural Health Research Center, University of Washington, Seattle, WA USA

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Citation and License

BMC Public Health 2007, 7:228  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-7-228

Published: 31 August 2007



Web-based health behavior change programs can reach large groups of disparate participants and thus they provide promise of becoming important public health tools. Data on participant rurality can complement other demographic measures to deepen our understanding of the success of these programs. Specifically, analysis of participant rurality can inform recruitment and social marketing efforts, and facilitate the targeting and tailoring of program content. Rurality analysis can also help evaluate the effectiveness of interventions across population groupings.


We describe how the RUCAs (Rural-Urban Commuting Area Codes) methodology can be used to examine results from two Randomized Controlled Trials of Web-based tobacco cessation programs: the project for smokeless tobacco cessation and the Smokers' Health Improvement Program (SHIP) project for smoking cessation.


Using RUCAs methodology helped to highlight the extent to which both Web-based interventions reached a substantial percentage of rural participants. The ChewFree program was found to have more rural participation which is consistent with the greater prevalence of smokeless tobacco use in rural settings as well as ChewFree's multifaceted recruitment program that specifically targeted rural settings.


Researchers of Web-based health behavior change programs targeted to the US should routinely include RUCAs as a part of analyzing participant demographics. Researchers in other countries should examine rurality indices germane to their country.