Farmers at high risk of heart disease and stroke

By June Shannon Heart News   |   18th Jun 2020

A major new study of farmers’ health published today (Thursday 18 June) as part of Men’s Health Week, shows farmers in Ireland are at increased risk of cardiovascular disease.

Almost three quarters or 74 per cent of male farmers in Ireland who took part in a new Irish study, were found to have four or more risk factors for cardiovascular disease making them three times more likely to have a heart attack or stroke compared to those with fewer risk factors.

These findings come from a study entitled Farmers Have Hearts Cardiovascular Health Programme.

The study involved The Irish Heart Foundation, Teagasc, the National Centre for Men’s Health (NCMH) at IT Carlow, 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.

Data was collected from 12 counties in the South, East and Midlands of Ireland, in 32 different locations between May 2018 – April 2019.

The study also found that the majority of farmers (85.9%) are living with either overweight or obesity which is substantially higher than the national average for Irish men (68%). Four in five (80.5%) farmers were classified as having an ‘at risk’ waist circumference of ≥94 cm (37 inches). Abdominal weight is a major risk factor for heart disease.

Other findings from the study indicate that farmers visited the GP 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 per cent had high blood pressure, 62.6 per cent had raised total cholesterol and 29.4 per cent had elevated blood glucose. This indicates either a lack of awareness or an incomplete understanding of cardiovascular disease or the risks associated with it.

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

" 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."

Marese Damery, Health Check Manager, The Irish Heart Foundation

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 while the top line figures paint a worrying picture there were 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,” she said.

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 5 or more portions of fruit and vegetables. This is higher than 70 per cent of the national population of Irish males.

Marese Damery, Health Check Manager with The Irish Heart Foundation said, “We have seen already through the Covid-19 crisis that one out of every two patients presenting to intensive care units have serious heart conditions with more men than women becoming critically ill. 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. We hope that by continuing to work in collaboration, and leading the health checks, we can do this.”

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.”

Professor Catherine Blake, UCD College of Health and Agricultural Sciences stressed that “This level of research is necessary to undertake robust scientific analysis, identify what works and develop evidence based recommendations and solutions.”

Welcoming the publication of the report Teagasc Director, Professor 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. Teagasc, working with partners in this area, have produced a number of reports and I would ask farmers or their families to use these and local services when they need to.”

Head of Stakeholder Engagement and Communications, HSE Health and Wellbeing, Fergal Fox stated “From a Healthy Ireland perspective – it’s great to see so many partners supporting men’s health through this initiative. The timing of this launch is particularly fitting as this is Men’s Health Week and the study findings reinforce the need for gender-sensitive, community outreach programmes that can successfully engage more ‘at risk’ groups of men.

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.

We are here for you

The Irish Heart Foundation’s nurse support line is available five days a week. Anyone living with heart disease and stroke who has concerns or questions about the coronavirus can contact the nurse support line on 01 668 5001 or support@irishheart.ie.

The Irish Heart Foundation’s new heart support group is on Facebook. Anyone who lives with heart failure or another heart condition or has a family member living with a heart condition can join here: www.facebook.com/groups/heartsupportnetwork/

The Irish Heart Foundation runs 21 stroke support groups and 5 heart failure groups around the country. All these groups have moved to telephone and online support. For more information, see https://irishheart.ie/get-support/.

The Irish Heart Foundation in conjunction with the HSE National Stroke Programme, has launched a new telephone support service for stroke patients who have recently been discharged from hospital. For more information, see here. 

Please support our work

If you found this article helpful and would like to donate to the Irish Heart Foundation please see here.

 

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