Highlighting health: Irish farmers have ‘significantly higher mortality rates’

In a recent survey carried out by Teagasc, 20% of farmers interviewed reported to have never consulted a doctor regarding their health.

The research found that Irish farmers had significantly higher mortality rates from cardiovascular disease (CVD) and cancers compared to other occupational groups.

The factors underpinning the health inequalities of Irish farmers are not fully understood, the Teagasc research – which was published in the spring edition of the agency’s TResearch magazine – found.

The project used self-reported questionnaire answers taken from 314 male farmers over 18 years of age from the south-east of Ireland.

Participants were from a range of ages: <45 years (59%); 45-64 (35%); and ≥65 (6%). They consisted of both full and part-time farmers from various enterprises.

A total of 57% of participants had visited a doctor in the past 12 months, a figure which is somewhat lower than the national average for Irish males (65%).

One in five farmers (20%) reported never having consulted a doctor.

Meanwhile, 39% of those surveyed reported having experienced ill health in the past 12 months – mainly lower back pain, arthritis (rheumatoid and/or osteoarthritis) and/or anxiety. Full-time farmers were more likely to report having lower back pain in the past 12 months.

The study found that ‘working identity’ tends to be highly important for farmers and work might be put ahead of any other responsibilities in life, such as health.

20% of farmers reported being a current smoker, compared to the national average of 24% for Irish males.

A figure of 88% of farmers reported regular consumption of alcohol, with 22% reporting weekly drinking – which is substantially lower than the 60% national average for Irish males.

Meanwhile, 22% also reported weekly ‘binge’ drinking – which amounts to six or more drinks per sitting – a result which is similar to the national average of 21%.

Farmers under 45 were more likely to smoke and drink alcohol weekly, according to the survey – while those over 45 had a much greater likelihood of reporting arthritis.

The proportion of farmers reporting rheumatoid arthritis – 13% – was found to be three times higher than the national average of Irish males.

This would have a detrimental effect on job productivity, and therefore might impact negatively on farm productivity and farm income, the study noted.