Health programme reduces farmers’ risk of heart disease and stroke

By June Shannon Heart News   |   8th Apr 2022

Report recommends roll out of free heart health programme to all farmers under leadership of the Irish Heart Foundation.

More than 80 per cent of Irish farmers who participated in a targeted cardiovascular health programme changed their lifestyles to improve their heart health and reduced their risk of cardiovascular disease, a major new study of has shown.

The research report which was jointly launched by Minister of State Martin Heydon TD, Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and Minister of State Mr Frank Feighan TD, Department of Health earlier this week found that 81 per cent of farmers who took part in the Farmers Have Hearts’ Cardiovascular Health Programme (FHH-CHP) made lifestyle changes to improve their health.

The ‘Farmers Have Hearts’ Cardiovascular Health Programme is a unique health behaviour change intervention tailored for Irish male farmers. It builds and responds to previous Irish research commissioned by the Irish Heart Foundation on the ‘Farmers Have Hearts Programme’ which showed that farmers have multiple risk factors for heart disease and stroke.

The ‘Farmers Have Hearts’ Programme started in 2007 as a local pilot programme and was further developed by the HSE and the Irish Heart Foundation in 2013 when it was piloted as a workplace cardiovascular health intervention at livestock marts.

More than 80 per cent of Irish farmers changed their lifestyles to improve their heart health

.

The full FHH-CHP consisted of a baseline health check carried out by the Irish Heart Foundation, a health behaviour change intervention, and a repeat health check at 52-weeks.

More than 868 male dry stock and dairy farmers in the south, south-east and midlands took part in the study over a one-year period. This involved completing a health check at the start and end of the 12-month period and engaging in CVD health promoting behaviours like improving their diet or getting more physical activity.

The findings revealed that as a result of the intervention 41 per cent of farmers improved their cardiovascular risk factor profile. This led to the number of farmers with four or more risk factors for cardiovascular disease (CVD) declining by 6 per cent meaning they were less likely to have a stroke or heart attack compared to those with more risk factors.

The report made a number of recommendations including that the Farmers Have Hearts Cardiovascular Health Programme be rolled out on a national basis and made available free of charge to all farmers in Ireland.

The report also recommended that, “supported by the existing FHH-CHP partnership and sufficient resources, the Irish Heart Foundation should assume the lead role in coordinating and delivering the next scale-up phase of the programme.”

" The Irish Heart Foundation intends to build on this important study with our partners, leading the next scale-up phase of the programme.”

Janis Morrissey, Director of Health Promotion, Information and Training , The Irish Heart Foundation

Welcoming the study, Janis Morrissey, Director of Health Promotion, Information and Training at the Irish Heart Foundation said, “cardiovascular disease  is a leading cause of death and disability in Ireland. This research shows that while farmers have multiple heart and stroke risk factors, providing them with local access to health checks and tailored intervention programmes has real benefits. The Irish Heart Foundation intends to build on this important study with our partners, leading the next scale-up phase of the programme.”

The lead author of the report Teagasc Walsh Scholar Diana van Doorn, stated, “though 6 per cent may seem like a small change it is really significant. Farmers and agricultural workers in Ireland between 17 and 64 years of age are seven times more likely to die of circulatory disease than salaried employees. They are a very high-risk group for CVD with 74 per cent of all farmers at the start of our study having four or more risk factors. It is so positive to see a large group of farmers having improved their lifestyle and their cardiovascular risk profile. We saw improvements in key areas like blood pressure, cholesterol, waist circumference, and the experience of stress for many of the farmers who took part”.

Minister of State for Public Health, Well Being and National Drugs Strategy, Frank Feighan T.D., said, “the ‘Farmers Have Hearts Programme’ has shown what can be done by supporting farmers within the workplace through a structured programme that offers men an incentive to engage and positive supports throughout.”

" It is so positive to see a large group of farmers having improved their lifestyle and their cardiovascular risk profile,"

Diana van Doorn,, Teagasc Walsh Scholar

The research was undertaken by van Doorn at the National Centre for Men’s Health, IT Carlow. The Irish Heart Foundation part-funded the farmer health checks carried out  at livestock marts with the HSE providing the balance of funding. Glanbia Ireland plc. provided additional financial support which enabled more than 400 of their milk suppliers to avail of the health checks and take part in the programme while the UCD School of Public Health, Physiotherapy and Sport Science provided statistical expertise.

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 and it is heartening that so many of those that participated in the study benefited from it.”

Dr David Meredith, Teagasc Research Officer stated;  “Internationally, there are few studies of this scale which means that we can have confidence in the effectiveness of the programme.”

Copies of the ‘Farmers Have Hearts’ Cardiovascular Health Programme – Detailed and Summary Impact Reports are available to download here

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