Resource economics professor receives grant for research

By Nancy Pierce

University of Massachusetts resource economics professor Sheila Mammen received a $250,000 grant earlier this month from the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) for her research on improving health for rural low-income families. It is the second grant awarded to Mammen for this work from NIFA in two years.

Mammen’s research project is titled “Dissemination of Core Health Messages: Using Community Based Participatory Research to Strengthen the Health of Rural, Low-Income Families.”

According to Mammen, the ultimate goal is to contribute to the knowledge base about low-income families in rural areas.  She hopes her research will influence policy makers to provide more care and transportation for them.

The research entails collecting data from rural regions throughout the country and analyzing if there are a sufficient number of hospitals, doctors, dentists and other health related institutions. Her research also includes deciphering what health information rural families need and how to convey the message.

According to Mammen, she found early on that maternal depression is a predominant issue these families face. The mother is more likely to be the primary care giver for the children and she said that could cause more stress.

Mammen attributed the constant poverty in rural areas to the lower population density than urban places. She said the remote nature of rural areas  attract fewer people because people believe businesses struggle.

“People want to go where the money is,” she said.

“Opportunities in rural areas are harder to come by, there are fewer jobs, the pay is less for those jobs, and it is more difficult to move up through the rankings in those jobs.” said Mammen. “There is much more persistent poverty in rural areas than urban.”

Mammen also spoke about the limitations on healthcare for rural low-income families. She said it is hard for these families to get quality health care because of a lack of doctors and economic means for the care.

“It’s difficult for them to cope when there is an illness, and many of them have numerous health problems –  physical and mental,” Mammen said.

Additionally, she said it was unclear whether the depression causes financial problems or if the financial problems cause depression and described it as a cycle.

NIFA’s grant for Rural Health and Safety Education focuses on issues regarding the impact of society on the health of rural families, health literacy and access to health services of rural families and health promotion.

Nancy Pierce can be reached at [email protected]