Dr Noel Richardson: “While farmers produce very good food, their own diet is not necessarily so healthy”
A high proportion of farmers are overweight or obese with eating habits that consist of low consumption of fruits, vegetables and dairy products, as well as high consumption of meat, fried and processed foods, salt and of sugary snacks, new research warns.
The provisional results of the soon to be released study “Investigating the Dietary Habits of Male Irish Farmers to Prevent Mortality and Morbidity” also indicate that young farmers reported “significantly higher consumption of processed meats”.
However, no association was found between age, lifestyle behaviors and eating habits.
Speaking to Independent AgricultureDr Noel Richardson, director of the National Center for Men’s Health (NCMH) at IT Carlow, said the findings will provide insight into how eating habits potentially contribute to poorer health outcomes for farmers.
It should also stress the need for health promotion interventions, including healthy eating campaigns, specifically aimed at farmers.
“A lot of farmers, even though they produce very good food, their own diet is not necessarily that healthy. We found that farmers’ diets were very high in concentrated fats like French fries and sugary snacks, and low in fruits and vegetables. Overall, the caloric intake of farmers is quite high compared to their energy production.
Dr Richardson, a central figure in supporting farmer health interventions, cautioned against assumptions that farmers are “very active”.
“Farmers are very active compared to other professions, but a lot of work is now done using machines and agriculture has become very mechanized.
“I don’t think farmers are spending the same amount of energy as 20 years ago. If they are not as active as they think they are and they consume more calories than their daily requirement, then they are going to gain weight and that is a bad thing.
“So it’s both – their overall calorie intake is probably too high for their energy needs; and also the content of their diet is quite unhealthy, there are two factors involved.
Obesity, he warned, is linked to many other health problems, including cardiovascular disease, blood pressure, diabetes and some cancers. People who are overweight and engaged in manual activities are also at higher risk for back injuries and other musculoskeletal problems, as they physically carry excess weight that puts strain on different joints, especially the lower back. , he added.
“Obesity can lead to accidents because farmers are less mobile as they age, and if they carry extra weight they will be more prone to accidents.”
While Dr Richardson stressed that farmers are not only exposed to these health risks, he called for a greater health intervention specifically targeting the farming community.
“The levels of overweight and obesity are quite high in the general population, for men and women, but especially for men, so it’s not just farmers, and that’s an important point.
“We need to educate farmers about their calorie needs and we need to focus more on what healthy eating looks like. – cut back on high fat and highly processed foods and focus more on fruits and vegetables and healthier food options.
“I can only speculate, but I would be surprised if Covid-19 does not result in a subsequent diagnosis of certain conditions, especially cancers or other chronic conditions, as the availability of appointments has been severely affected.
“Farmers, due to the nature of isolated rural life, may be even more affected by the impact of Covid on, not only their physical health, but also their mental health as some services have certainly been negatively affected.
“I guess middle-aged to older single farmers in particular may have become even more isolated, but there is no evidence to say so categorically.”
Dr Richardson also insisted that there is a danger of “blaming the farmers” for not looking after their health and not going to the doctor.
He pointed to the ‘Farmers Have Hearts’ cardiovascular health program – a major study involving Teagasc, NCMH, Irish Heart Foundation, Glanbia, HSE and UCD – which indicated that farmers are at high risk of disease. cardiovascular.
“When you look at this program, we went to markets and co-ops to give farmers their health check and the level of membership was absolutely amazing.
“Hardly any farmer gave up during the follow-up year, the vast majority of them returned.
“When the approach is right, farmers will get involved. Not all farmers in work clothes want to go to a GP’s office and potentially stay there for two hours. “
He also referred to On Feírm Ground, a program designed to train 800 private agricultural consultants and Teagasc advisers to engage with farmers on basic health issues. It should be deployed this fall.
“Agricultural advisers are an essential point of contact for farmers on agricultural businesses, there is already this relationship of trust and security. They are in a good position to offer support for health reasons if they see that a farmer is in distress.
“Old habits die hard, culture change takes place slowly and gradually. We are certainly on our way, but there is still a long way to go.
“I think farmers may still be preoccupied with their work and don’t really see the importance of their health as the most important cog in the wheel.
“The key message is that without your own health you are your livelihood and your farm is potentially included. Take care of your own health first and foremost, which in turn will serve your business much better.
“We know that there are programs that work, whether they be checkup programs or lifestyle intervention programs, so I would definitely encourage and really welcome the development of these programs with funding, whether from partnerships or from HSE. “
The latest study “Investigating the Dietary Habits of Male Irish Farmers to Prevent Mortality and Morbidity” – involving NCMH, WIT, UCD and Teagasc – will be released later this summer.