Farmers are seven times more susceptible to cardiovascular disease and three times more likely to get cancer than any other occupational group.
Farmer diets were found to have a high intake of meats and salt and are low in dairy and vegetables.
Meanwhile, factors like stress, social exclusion, loneliness and isolation have emerged as key contributors in studies on farmers carried out countrywide, new research from IT Carlow shows.
Diana Van Doorn, of the Department of Science and Health at IT Carlow, described the results as “a very stark finding” but said it was encouraging that “the majority are preventable” by changing lifestyle.
The findings come from a pilot scheme of farmer health checks carried out at livestock marts, and an on-going study on the impact of lifestyle and dietary changes on 868 farmers who are co-operating with a HSE programme.
She said that 46pc of the farmers who volunteered for the health check at the marts were found to have high cholesterol and a similar percentage were found to have high blood pressure. There was also a high level of obesity and being overweight detected among the farmers, while 80pc admitted to have a family history of cardiovascular disease.
“The results showed that 81pc of the farmers we met had four or more risk factors of heath disease,” she said.
“We found that socio-economic issues have a big impact. Farmers generally have a lower education level, avail fewer of the services that are available, and experience a higher level of social exclusion,” she said.
“There is a correlation between the quality of life, low incomes and loneliness because farmers go out less than people in other walks of life and 64pc were stressed.”
Lower back pain was also found to be very prevalent among Irish farmers. Among sheep farmers, more than half were found to have lower back pain in such a way that it interferes with their daily work life.
It was also shown that there is a higher admission rate at psychiatric hospitals among farmers, and socio-economic issues, low incomes, regulations and loneliness are major factors.
“A lot of illness is lifestyle and can be prevented. A lot of farmers present at a very late stage to their doctor and that can have consequences,” said Ms Van Doorn.
Of the farmers checked at the marts, 79pc were advised to have a health check with their GP, with 36pc engaging in lifestyle changes. In a follow-up, 42pc of the farmers said that they would not have had a health check otherwise.
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