Farmers seven times more likely to die of heart disease

John Noonan from Kilmagner with Irish Heart Foundation nurse Anna O'Donoghue, after his health check at Cork Marts, Fermoy. Picture: Michael Mac Sweeney/Provision

Irish farmers are seven times more likely to die of heart disease or stroke than those in other occupations.

More than 80% of farmers are overweight or obese, the overwhelming majority have a family history of cardiovascular disease (CVD), and almost half have either high cholesterol or high blood pressure.

In a study published by the Irish Heart Foundation yesterday, almost eight out of 10 farmers were found to have four or more risk factors for CVD, the leading cause of death in Ireland.

Those factors include family history, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and being overweight. As a result, 80% of farmers were advised to see their GP for follow-up after health checks.

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Findings from the Farmers Have Hearts initiative revealed the most prevalent risk identified was overweight or obesity at 86%, while 82% had a family history of heart disease and stroke, a key risk for CVD.

Farmers Have Hearts — led by the Irish Heart Foundation and supported by the HSE — provides one-to-one health checks to farmers in marts across the country. The health checks, which are undertaken by Irish Heart Foundation nurses and free of charge, measure blood pressure, cholesterol, glucose, body mass index, and waist circumference.

According to Maureen Mulvihill, head of health promotion at the Irish Heart Foundation: “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.”

Research by Carlow Institute of Technology reveals that 82.1% of farmers reported a family history of heart disease and/or stroke or diabetes while 80.7% had four or more CVD risk factors. Based on BMI measurements, 86.4% of farmers were classified as overweight and of those, 35.6% were obese. For waist circumference, 79.5% were classified as ‘at risk’ (over 37 inches) and 37.8% ‘at high risk’ (over 40 inches).

One third of participating farmers (35.5%) reported not being physically active for five days or more a week.

The majority of farmers — 64.2% — reported experiencing stress “sometimes” and, of those, 16.2% reported feeling stressed “most of the time”.

A minority of farmers, (17.8%), reported smoking while 46.4% drank alcohol on a regular basis.

Cate Hartigan, head of health promotion and improvement at the HSE, said: “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.”

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