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Promoting Farmers Health - Men’s Health Week (Monday 14 - Sunday 20 June)

It's time to Stay Fit for Farming! Dr John McNamara, Health and Safety Specialist, Teagasc is mindful of Men’s Health Week running from today, Monday 14th to Sunday 20th June (Father's Day). He reminds farmers that ‘Your Health is your Wealth’ and he discusses studies that looked at farmer health.

‘Your Health is your Wealth’ is a wise saying. However, often, it is only when health is lost that people realise its benefit. Health can be maintained or enhanced in the longer term by taking positive health promoting actions. This is the case for cardiovascular disease and some cancers along with mental health, which are the major causes of ill health.

Farmer Health

Thus, in the longer term we can all do a lot to maintain our own health. Additionally, a healthy farmer is needed to run a farm effectively.  Studies by Teagasc have shown that disability due to poor health can jeopardise farm family livelihoods. Many people think that ‘farming is a great healthy outdoor occupation, with lots of exercise and homegrown food’. There are indeed many benefits from farming life. Farmers do get lots of ‘steps’ and on average they both smoke and drink alcohol less than  the population average, which is positive for health.  

However, the National Study by Dr Breda Smyth MD has shown that farmers experience five times higher cardiovascular, 3 times higher cancer and 7 times higher mortality in the working age range than ‘white collar’ workers. Clearly, there is misperception that farmers as an occupational group are healthy and more work is needed to cut the consequences of ill health.

NUIG study finding

Firstly, while farmers get many steps, they may not be sufficient for cardiovascular exercise where a recent study by Ms Trisha Loughman M.Sc and colleagues at NUIG found that farmers need more moderate-vigorous intensity physical activity (MVPA).  Always seek medical advice before changing your exercise routine. In addition, several Irish studies have shown that farmer’s diets are poor and that farmers in general are overweight.

Both men’s and women’s health is vitally important. Worldwide, women use more preventative health care. With men, masculinity traits can lead to adopting unhealthy behaviours such as poor diet, excessive alcohol consumption and non-use of health services. A gendered health approach is most effective as this takes account of a gender conditioning impact on the value that men place on their health and how they look after it. Hence, a strong focus needs to be placed on ‘Men’s Health’.

What can be done about farmer’s health?

Firstly, it is about building awareness of health issues based on objective data. Health actions arise from health knowledge and beliefs. Everyone should assess what their current health position is and examine what actions are required. The H.S.E. website and the Health Booklet for Farmers ‘Fit for Farming’ provides information to ‘make a start’!

A very good start would be to get a health check. Men, including farmers, are reluctant to get a health check, which could lead better health outcomes. Getting a regular health check by a GP is a vital cornerstone to maintaining health as it allows issues to be monitored and picked up before progressing to a serious issue.

Watch the video below with John McNamara and Carlow IT on Farmer Health and Wellbeing

Co. Meath Farmer, Jim Geraghty, talks about Farmer Physical Health in the video below

Staying Fit for Farming is available here (PDF)

See Teagasc webpage Farmer Health for more information.

If you liked this article you might also like to read Teagasc Supports Men’s Health Week

John McNamara has completed the ENGAGE National Men’s Health Training Programme and acknowledges material used in this article from ENGAGE.