Farmers Have Hearts Cardiovascular Health Programme

National Centre for Men's Health in IT Carlow leads major study of farmer’s health.

From Left: Professor Catherine Blake, (UCD); Dr. Aoife Osbourne (UCD); Dr. Paula Rankin (IT Carlow); Dr. David Meredith (Teagasc); Dr.  John McNamara (Teagasc); Dr. Noel Richardson (IT Carlow); Janis Morrissey (IHF); Marese Damery (IHF) -- Front: Diana van Doorn (Teagasc Walsh Scholar, IT Carlow); Professor Gerry Boyle, Teagasc Director; Audrey O'Shea (Glanbia Ireland)

A major study of farmer’s health was published in June 2020, as part of Men’s Health Week. The research 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.  

The lead author of the study, Diana van Doorn, a Walsh PhD 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. She explains “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.” 

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 HSE and 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. Results show that the majority of farmers (85.9%) are either overweight or suffering from obesity. This is substantially higher than the national average for Irish men (68%).  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), and most (79.3%) reported not meeting the recommended daily intake of 5 or more portions of fruit and vegetables. This is higher than 70% of the national population of Irish males.  

Other findings from the study indicate that farmers utilise GP services in response to ill-health rather than to prevent risk factors for disease. Commenting on this, Vice-President for Development and Research at 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. The success of this novel and innovative approach in engaging a so-called 'hard to reach' group, can serve as an important template for engaging other groups of men in other workplace settings.” 

The baseline data collected as part of this study is being analysed to identify the best ways of supporting farmers 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’ he appealed to farmers to give cardiovascular disease prevention immediate attention. He said: “Don’t put off going to the doctor or taking the first steps to a healthier lifestyle. Do it today.”