60% of farmers are overweight but only 27% believe they are too heavy – study

Some 60% of farmers are classified as ‘overweight or obese’ compared to 50% of the Irish population while among farmers just 27% believed that they were too heavy, a new study has found.

The findings of the study were recently released and come in time for International Men’s Week, which runs from June 13 to June 19.

The aim of the International Men’s Health Week is to heighten awareness of preventable health problems for males of all ages; to support men and boys to engage in healthier lifestyle choices/ activities and to encourage the early detection and treatment of health difficulties in males.

Farmers need to give more emphasis to their health for quality of life and farm production reasons, Dr John McNamara, Teagasc Health and Safety Specialist has said.

Dr McNamara said that research Ireland and internationally indicates that poor health leads to reduced capacity to undertake farm work and as a consequence reduced farm income.

Farmers in poor health are also susceptible to higher levels of injuries, he said.

Also Read: Would you know what to do if an accident happened on your farm?

Studies show that ‘farmers’ tend to consider themselves as ‘healthy’ when they can carry out work, but tend to ignore health issues that could have long-term consequences, he added.

Teagasc is currently engaged in an on-going study of farmers’ health in association with health professionals from the Waterford Institute of Technology (WIT), Centre for Men’s Health, IT Carlow and the UCD Schools of Physiotherapy and Performance Science and Agriculture and Food Science.

Recent findings of the Farmers’ Health study among a sample of 366 farmers (86% male) compares self-reported health behaviours with the overall general population, available from the national Survey on Lifestyle and Attitude to Nutrition (SLAN).

The study found that 38% of farmers reported one or more health issues in the previous 12 months.

Some 34% of farmers reported a physical health complaint and 12% reported mental health issues.

Furthermore, 59% of farmers had consulted their GP about their health within the last year, which compares to 74% of the general population.

The study found that low back pain (LBP) was the most prevalent physical complaint occurring in 28% of farmers. This level is higher than the level for the general population (16%), according to Teagasc.

In contrast, it found that 54% of farmers reported undertaking high levels of physical activity compared to 24% for the Irish population.

According to the study, 18% of farmers reported that they currently smoke compared to 29% for the Irish population.

Meanwhile, 85% of farmers reported drinking alcohol compared to 80% for the Irish population and 19% of farmers reported binge drinking (having six or more standard drinks on one occasion) at least once per week compared to 28% of the Irish population.

Commenting on the study findings, Aubrey Storey, Lecturer in Exercise and Health Science at WIT stated that ‘behaviour change’ is a key to either health gain or its maintenance.

“Making small initial changes based on heightened awareness can lead to major positive change in a person’s health profile over-time.”

He also stated that the Farmer Health study indicates in particular that farmers should make greater use of health care professionals when unwell and to maintain health. It also shows a high level of low back pain which can restrict a farmer’s work activity.

An booklet ‘ Staying Fit for Farming – A Health Booklet for Farmers’ can be down loaded from the Teagasc website.