Almost eight out of 10 Irish farmers were found to have four or more risk factors for cardiovascular disease (CVD), the leading cause of death in Ireland, such as family history, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and overweight.

This was one of the main results of a new study published by the Irish Heart Foundation. As a result eight out of 10 farmers who took part were advised to see their GP for follow-up.

Findings from the ‘Farmers Have Hearts’ initiative revealed that the most prevalent risk identified was overweight or obesity at 86%, and 82% had a family history of heart disease and stroke, a key risk for cardiovascular disease.

Farmers Have Hearts, led by the Irish Heart Foundation and supported by the HSE, provide one-to-one health checks to farmers in marts across the country and was established as farmers in Ireland are seven times more likely to die from heart disease and stroke than other occupations.

Main Findings

The majority (82.1%) of farmers reported a family history of heart disease and/or stroke or diabetes.

Combining measured (e.g. blood pressure, blood glucose, cholesterol and BMI and waist measurement) and self-reported health outcomes (e.g. smoking, physical inactivity, stress) the majority (80.7%) of famers had four or more CVD risk factors.

  • Almost half of farmers (46.0%) had high blood pressure.
  • Almost half of farmers (46.1%) had raised total cholesterol levels. (The vast majority of participating farmers were found to be overweight or obese.
  • Based on BMI measurements, 86.4% of farmers were classified as overweight (BMI kg/m2 25.0 to 29.9) and of those, 35.6% were classified as obese (BMI over kg/m2 30.0).
  • Similarly, for waist circumference, 79.5% were classified as ‘at risk’ (over 37 inches) and of those, 37.8% were classified as ‘at high risk’ (over 40 inches).

In relation to self-reported health measures,

  • One third of participating farmers (35.5%) reported not being physically active for 5 days or more a week.
  • The majority of farmers (64.2%) reported experiencing stress ‘sometimes’ and, of those, 16.2% reported feeling stressed ‘most of the time’.
  • A minority of farmers (17.8%) reported smoking.
  • Almost half of farmers (46.4%) reported that they drank alcohol on a regular basis and 25% of ‘drinkers’ reported drinking more than 17 standard drinks a week.
  • The majority of farmers (79.2%) were advised to visit their GP by the IHF nurse on the basis of the heart health check results. After 12 weeks, almost a third (31.8%) followed through and visited their GP.
  • Nearly 42% said they wouldn’t have had a health check if not for Farmers Have Hearts programme.

The health checks, which are undertaken by Irish Heart Foundation nurses and provided free of charge to farmers, measure blood pressure, cholesterol, glucose body mass index and waist circumference.

According to Maureen Mulvihill, Head of Health Promotion, Irish Heart Foundation these extremely high levels of risk factors demonstrate why farmers are at such risk of heart disease and stroke.

“Not surprisingly most of the farmers were advised to see their GP by our health check nurses. After 12 weeks it was encouraging to see almost a third had followed up with their doctor but we need all farmers, advised to see their GP, to do so.”

“The high level of CVD risk factors among farmers is related to various factors such as family history, the perception among farmers that their active and outdoor occupation is ‘healthier’ and the 24/7 work life limiting opportunity to get GP check-ups,” said Ms Mulvihill.