A major study of farmer’s health, published as part of Men’s Health Week on 18 June, found that 74% of male farmers have four, or more, risk factors for cardiovascular disease, and are three times more likely to have a stroke or heart attack compared to those with fewer risk factors.

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, by virtue of their occupation, farmers get a lot of physical activity.” However, she added that areas of concern were identified by the study, and a total of 75% of all farmers who participated in the research were advised to visit their GP to get further support and advice.

These findings come from a study involving Teagasc, NCMH at IT Carlow, the Irish Heart Foundation, Glanbia Ireland, the HSE and UCD College of Health and Agricultural Sciences, which revealed that 868 male farmers have undergone health checks in marts and Glanbia Ireland Agribusiness branches across the south, east and midlands.

Dr David Meredith from 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.”

Results show that the majority of farmers (85.9%) are either overweight or suffer from obesity, which is substantially higher than the national average for Irish men (68%), with abdominal weight being a major risk factor for heart disease.

Marese Damery, Irish Heart Foundation’s Health Check Manager/Health Promotion, 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 highlights the importance of providing farmers, and men in general, with local access to health checks and interventions programmes.”