Australian farmers have been asked to check their health using online tools, and research shows they are more susceptible to heart disease, diabetes, obesity and unsafe alcohol consumption.
Researchers at the National Center for Farmer Health developed a tool called the Farmer HAT when in-person check-ins on farms were canceled due to pandemic lockdowns.
Farmer HAT seeks health, safety and well-being information to identify risk of illness or harm, directs users to online resources or refers them to GPs.
In a small pilot of 36 sheep farmers using this tool, data showed that 52% were at risk for heart disease and 64% were overweight or obese.
Of the 21 men and 14 women aged 19 to 74, 30% were at high risk for diabetes and a quarter drank alcohol above health guidelines.
None of the 22 respondents who rode quad bikes said they always wore a helmet, according to a survey released Tuesday at the National Rural Health Conference in Brisbane.
Although the study cohort was small, it reflected results from thousands of health and well-being tests at the center, Lecturer and Research Fellow Jacqueline Cotten told AAP.
Cotton said farmers could suffer what is known as a “defeat cycle.” During this cycle, higher levels of stress hormones influence physical health issues and alcohol use.
“We are experiencing severe climate impacts, such as droughts, floods and wildfires, which are beyond our control,” she said.
“The economic impact of something out of your control causing problems on your farm is very serious.
“The ripple effect is for the whole family. Farmers and their families live and work on the farm, so it flows to the young people in the farming community.”
Farmer HAT allows users to privately check their health. Researchers hope this will lead to open conversations about physical and mental health in farming communities.
“How someone operates this tool is a very personal matter,” says Cotton.
“This may be the only interaction they have with their own health, or the only reflection they have.”