Irish farmers are almost seven times more likely to die from cardiovascular disease (CVD), mainly heart disease and stroke, than the lowest risk occupational group i.e. salaried employees .
Recent research showed that 80% of farmers have four or more risk factors such as family history, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and overweight . In a bid to raise awareness among farmers about their heart health and reduce their risk, the IFA has joined forces with the Farmers Have Hearts initiative, led out by the Irish Heart Foundation.
Farmers Have Hearts, which is funded by the HSE, provides free health checks by Irish Heart Foundation nurses to farmers at marts and since 2013, 2,800 farmers have been checked with 72% advised to see their GP. The IFA has committed to increasing awareness of heart disease and stroke among farmers by extending additional free health checks and information sessions to IFA Executive Committees around the country.
IFA President Joe Healy has strongly urged farmers to get their health checked, saying: “Often farmers can take a stand-back attitude to their health, and are reluctant to see a doctor even if they have a particular concern. Our message is that having a health check will either put your mind at ease, or set you on the right course to improve your health and lifestyle – either way, getting a check-up is a smart thing to do.”
Maureen Mulvihill, Head of Health Promotion, Irish Heart Foundation said: “Farmers are disproportionately affected by chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, despite a common perception that they live healthy, active lives. Farmers Have Hearts has shown that the most prevalent risk for CVD among male farmers is overweight or obesity at 86% and 82% had a family history of heart disease .
“Our research showed that only 32% of those who were advised to see their GP did so, and we are delighted that the IFA is lending its support to help farmers realise that preventing a heart attack or stroke by identifying risk factors is a positive step. For example, high blood pressure or high cholesterol can be managed very successfully working with the family doctor and can prevent serious heart problems developing in the future, which could impact on ability to work and livelihood,” said Ms Mulvihill.
Simon Harris, Minister for Health said: “It is important that farmers know about their own health and what they can do to keep themselves healthy. Modest lifestyle changes and the support of healthcare professionals can make a huge difference, and I hope that farmers will take advantage of the free checks and advice on offer.”
Research on 310 farmers as part of Farmers Have Hearts showed that 79% of those checked in the marts were advised to follow up with a GP visit. One-third of these farmers did see a GP within 12 weeks and almost half of those found to be at risk made changes to their lifestyle following the health check, including increasing physical activity or changing diet. On a positive note, 42% of those who took part would not have had a health check otherwise .
IFA Health checks
The IFA / IHF health checks are taking place in 12 venues around the country and can be booked through local IFA offices.
A health check can pick up risk factors and signs for concern. It will take just 30 minutes and involves very little preparation. Results are provided straight away and the nurse or doctor will advise on a one-to-one basis any steps needed to reduce heart health risk.”
The health checks address the main risk factors associated with circulatory diseases such as blood pressure, cholesterol, weight, smoking, consumption of alcohol and physical activity. The check involves a blood pressure check, cholesterol and glucose check, weight measurement, carbon monoxide check (for smokers) and overall individual assessment. Each attendee will receive a personal record of all tests and a personal lifestyle plan following the health check.
To increase awareness of heart health among farmers generally, The Irish Heart Foundation is also providing information to farmers at IFA events in each county. Topics covered will include knowing your risks, tips to lead a healthier lifestyle and healthy eating.