Study: 74% of male farmers ‘3 times more likely to have heart attack or stroke’

A major study of farmers’ health – published today, Thursday, June 18, as part of Men’s Health Week – found that 74% of male farmers have four, or more, risk factors for cardiovascular disease.

This means they are three times more likely to have an acute cardiac event (stroke or heart attack) compared to those with fewer risk factors.

75% of all farmers participating in the research were advised to visit their GP to get further support and advice.

‘There are positives’

The lead author of the study, Diana van Doorn, a PhD Walsh Scholar at Teagasc and the National Centre for Men’s Health at IT Carlow, said that whilst the top-line figures paint a worrying picture there are positives.

We found that the majority of farmers reported having visited their GP in the past year, fewer farmers smoke or drink compared to the general population and farmers, by virtue of their occupation, get a lot of physical activity.

“There are however areas of concern identified by the study,” van Doorn warned.

These findings come from a study involving Teagasc, the National Centre for Men’s Health (NCMH) at IT Carlow, the Irish Heart Foundation, Glanbia Ireland, the Health Service Executive (HSE) and University College Dublin (UCD) College of Health and Agricultural Sciences that saw 868 male farmers undergo health checks in marts and Glanbia Ireland Agribusiness branches across the south, east and midlands.

Dr. David Meredith, Teagasc, highlighted that, internationally, there are few studies of this scale.

With over 800 farmers participating in the health checks and the trial phase, this gives us insights not only into the health of farmers in general but also how demographic and social characteristics influence health.

A number of the findings are of particular concern, according to Teagasc.

Results

Results show that the majority of farmers – 85.9% – are either living with obesity or are overweight. This is substantially higher than the national average for Irish men (68%).

Four in five farmers – some 80.5% – were classified as having an ‘at risk’ waist circumference of ≥94 cm (37in). Abdominal weight is a major risk factor for heart disease.

Marese Damery, of the Irish Heart Foundation, said: “This research has shown that farmers have multiple heart and stroke risk factors and really highlights the importance of providing farmers and men in general with local access to health checks and interventions programmes.”

Welcoming the publication of the report, Teagasc director Prof. Gerry Boyle stated:

One of the striking results is that one in three farmers (34.9%) scored ‘poor’ or ‘below average’ on a self-administered short well-being measurement scale.

Other findings from the study indicate that farmers utilise GP services in response to ill-health rather than to prevent risk factors for disease.

Of those farmers not already prescribed medication for blood pressure (n=585), cholesterol (n=588) and/or blood glucose (n=588), 43.8% had high blood pressure, 62.6% raised total cholesterol and 29.4% elevated blood glucose.

This indicates either a lack of awareness, or an incomplete understanding of cardiovascular disease, or the risks associated with it.

Commenting on this, vice-president for development and research at the Institute of Technology Carlow, Declan Doyle noted: “The findings underline the importance of working in partnership to engage and support farmers to take increased responsibility for their own health.”

Eating habits

In relation to eating habits, the majority of farmers (72.1%) reported consuming salty and/or sugary snacks on a daily basis which is higher than the national average of 34% (not gender specific).

One in five farmers (21.9%) reported consuming deep fried food three or more times a week, and most (79.3%) reported not meeting the recommended daily intake of five or more portions of fruit and vegetables. This is higher than 70% of the national population of Irish males.

The baseline data collected as part of this study is being analysed to identify the best ways of supporting farmers to adopt and maintain healthier lifestyles.

Dr. John McNamara, Teagasc health and safety specialist, stated that the results of this research will yield valuable knowledge on ways to promote cardiovascular health among farmers.

Appealing to farmers to give cardiovascular disease prevention immediate attention, the Teagasc specialist said: “Don’t put off going to the doctor or taking the first steps to a healthier lifestyle – do it today.”

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