A new four-year study has commenced this week to investigate approaches to assisting farmers to improve cardiovascular health.

The study will be conducted by Teagasc PhD Walsh fellow Diana Van Doorn at the Centre for Men’s Health at IT Carlow.

The study is also supported by Glanbia Ireland, the Irish Heart Foundation, the Health Services Executive (HSE) and the University College Dublin (UCD) School of Physiotherapy and Performance Science.

The research will provide opportunities for farmers attending marts in 60 locations throughout Ireland during 2018-2019 to undertake a health screen test.

If they choose to do so, farmers can also participate in the study – which will seek to support them to achieve healthier lifestyle goals.

Irish farmers – particularly men – are an especially high-risk group for cardiovascular (CVD) disease, the leading cause of death in Ireland.

While a general decline in mortality rates has occurred in the Irish population in recent decades, the rate of decrease among farmers has been the lowest of any socio-economic group.

Lifestyle behaviours, including occupational factors, are strongly associated with cardiovascular disease and are therefore preventable.

If untreated, CVD can have serious impacts on a farmer’s health which undermines the profitability, productivity, competitiveness and sustainability of farming.

Speaking at the launch of the study, Professor Gerry Boyle, Teagasc director, said: “By working with farmers and agencies with a role in health research and promotion, we can meet the key challenge of devising and implementing strategies to assist farmers to effectively manage occupational health issues, including CVD.

These will enable us to work together to deliver real impact for farmers and family farms.

Marese Damery, health check manager of the Irish Heart Foundation, also spoke.

She said: “The Irish Heart Foundation welcomes the opportunity to collaborate on this project as it builds on the research already commissioned by us which revealed that 80% of farmers are in the high-risk group for heart disease and stroke and recommended that more research be conducted on effective interventions with this group.

L-R Front: Diana von Doorn; Prof. Gerry Boyle, director of Teagasc; Audrey O’Shea, sustainability manager, Glanbia. Back: Dr. Catherine Blake, UCD; Dr. Aoife Osborne, UCD; Paula Rankin, IT Carlow; Dr. David Meredith, Teagasc; Dr. John McNamara, Teagasc; Dr. Noel Richardson, IT Carlow; Janice Morrissey, Irish Heart Foundation, Ms. Marese Damery, Irish Heart Foundation

“The study adds significant value to the regular health checks that we undertake each year through our Farmers Have Hearts programme, supported by the HSE.”

Also speaking at the meeting was Audrey O’Shea, sustainability manager with Glanbia Ingredients Ireland.

She said: “At Glanbia Ireland, we believe that the ability to sustain a dairy enterprise is not only related to animal, environmental and economic care; but also recognise that the health, safety and physical well-being of our farmers is fundamental to continued success.”