Most farmers have high heart risk

The vast majority of Irish farmers have at least four risk factors for cardiovascular disease (CVD), which is the leading cause of death in this country, a new study has revealed.

The findings are based on the ‘Farmers Have Hearts' initiative, which is led by the Irish Heart Foundation (IHF) and is supported by the HSE. It provides one-to-one health checks to farmers in marts nationwide, free of charge.

These health checks, which are provided by IHF nurses, include blood pressure, cholesterol levels, body mass index and glucose levels.

A study on the initiative by the Carlow Institute of Technology found that 80% of farmers had at least four of the main risk factors for CVD, such as excess weight, high cholesterol and high blood pressure. These farmers were advised to see their GP for a follow-up.

The study found that 86% were classed as overweight and among these, 35% were obese. Some 79% were found to have a waist circumference in the ‘at risk' category, i.e. more than 37 inches, and among these, 37% were classified as ‘high risk', i.e. over 40 inches.

"These extremely high levels of risk factors demonstrate why farmers are at such risk of heart disease and stroke. Not surprisingly, most of the farmers were advised to see their GP by our health check nurses. After 12 weeks, it was encouraging to see almost a third had followed up with their doctor, but we need all farmers advised to see their GP to do so," commented Maureen Mulvihill of the IHF.

Previous research has found that farmers in Ireland are seven times more likely to die from heart disease and stroke compared to other occupations and according to Ms Mulvihill, there may be a number of reasons for this.

"The high level of CVD risk factors among farmers is related to various factors such as family history, the perception among farmers that their active and outdoor occupation is ‘healthier' and the 24/7 work life limiting opportunity to get GP check-ups," she noted.

The study found that 82% of farmers had a family history of heart disease, stroke or diabetes and 80% had four or more CVD risk factors. Some 46% of farmers had high blood pressure and a similar number had high cholesterol levels.

Just over 64% said they experienced stress ‘sometimes' and among these 16% said they experienced it ‘most of the time'.

Only 17% of farmers were found to be smokers, however 46% said they drank alcohol regularly and among these, 25% consumed more than 17 standard drinks per week.

Almost half of the farmers who took part in the initiative admitted that they would not have had a health check otherwise.

"Given that eight out of 10 farmers who took part in the programme were advised to follow up with their GP, we need to get the message out to all farmers that they need to make time to have a regular check-up with their GP. It's 20 minutes that could save their life," commented Cate Hartigan, head of health promotion and improvement with the HSE.

For more information on heart disease, see our Heart Disease Clinic here

[Posted: Tue 19/05/2015]


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