Dairy Farmer Wellness – how well are we physically?
The Dairy Farmer Wellness and Wellbeing Programme that was led by Dairy Women’s Network focused on physical and emotional wellbeing, including reducing stress and fatigue, and building networks to support dairy farmers to improve their health.
This programme of work was funded by the NZ dairy farmer levy through DairyNZ and the Ministry for Primary Industries through the Primary Growth Partnership.
Physical Health Pitstops continue to be run by Dairy NZ and the NZ Institute of Rural Health. There is also an emotional wellbeing assessment, carried out by AgResearch, on offer.
These assessments provide farmers with immediate information about their health and, in many instances, have resulted in farmers taking action to reduce life-threatening conditions.
The Health PitStop, defined as a structured health assessment undertaken by health professionals and social researchers. With nearly 3000 Health PitStop chekcs undertaken in the programmes first four year to November 2014.
Below, we summarise some of the findings, learning’s and future plans for the popular Health PitStop programme.
The good news
10.7% of the dairy farming population sampled as smokers. Both years compare favourably with the 2006 Census finding that 20.7% of the entire population are smokers.
Over 50% of dairy farmers sampled have seen their General Practitioners (GP) within the past twelve months. This frequency is found across all age groups, except the less health needy group of 15-24 year olds. Visits to GPs increase with age and females see GPs more often than males, which is typical of the entire population.
Only 7% (45 dairy farmers) self report having not seen their GP within the past five years.
The not so good news
The stand out concern relates to the presence of cardiovascular risk factors.
80% of males and 60% of females had a body mass index of greater than 25, which the World Health Organisation recognises as the upper limit of normal. 30% of males and 25% of females had a body mass index greater than 30, which the World Health Organisation categorises as obese.
Total cholesterol (fats carried in the bloodstream) were recorded as non-fasting. Two-thirds of dairy farmers sampled returned a result greater than the World Health Organisation maximum recommended level of 4.0 mmol/litre of blood. One-third returned a result greater than 5.0 mmol/litre.
High blood pressure
Half the dairy farmers returned blood pressure results which the World Health Organisation would regard as moderately high (33%) or high (17%).
Blood glucose level
Nearly 4% returned a blood glucose reading greater than8.0 mmol/litre.
Risk factor summary
60% of the dairy farmer attendees over the two years recorded at least one factor worthy of referring them to their GP; either obesity, cholesterol level greater than 5.0 mmol/litre, high blood pressure or excessive blood glucose level.
Other factors of interest
Protection against skin cancer is not as thorough as it could be. Wearing sunscreen and a hat that covers the ears and neck are two successful preventers. It is beneficial to also have your GP or skin specialist to regularly check your skin.
The synergistic value of the three prevention strategies to prevent skin cancers is not capitalized by 8 out of 9 dairy farmers, in the face of increasing skin cancers, there is more reliance on sunhats and sunscreen than checking for melanoma; yet checking is an equal preventer of melanoma along side wearing sunhats and sunscreen.
Only 80% of dairy farmers sampled advised wearing ear protection when they thought it necessary; 70% wear eye protection when they think it necessary and 25% during year two (22% year one) wore a helmet on the farm cycle.
We continue to be grateful for dairy farmers who provide up with follow up information and greatly impressed by the attention dairy farmers have paid to their own health, whether that be by visiting their GP when advised and/or lifestyle changes to aid weight loss, blood pressure, cholesterol or blood sugar levels.
The New Zealand Institute of Rural Health continues to develop an education programme for delivery to a select group of dairy farmers with cardio-vascular disease risk factors to raise awareness of health options for them. Subsequent sessions will provide education about men’s and women’s health issues and safety on farms.