Australian farmers are being urged to check in on their own health using an online tool, with research showing they are more prone to heart disease, diabetes, obesity and unsafe alcohol consumption.
Researchers from the National Centre for Farmer Health developed the tool called Farmer HAT when pandemic lockdowns put an end to the organisation’s face-to-face check-ins at field days.
Farmer HAT asks for health, safety and wellbeing information to identify any risks of disease and harm, then directs users to online resources or refers them to their GP.
In a small pilot of 36 sheep farmers who used the tool, data showed 52 per cent were at risk of heart disease, and 64 per cent were overweight or obese.
Of the 21 men and 14 women aged between 19 and 74, 30 per cent were at high risk of diabetes and a quarter consumed alcohol above health guidelines.
None of the 22 respondents who rode quad bikes reported always wearing a helmet, according to the research presented at the National Rural Health Conference in Brisbane on Tuesday.
Though the study cohort was small, it reflects findings from thousands of the centre’s health and wellbeing tests, lecturer and research fellow Jacqueline Cotton told AAP.
Cotton said farmers could suffer from what was known as the “defeat cycle”, in which higher levels of stress hormones feed into physical health problems and alcohol use.
“We’ve got the acute impact of climate, like drought, flood, bushfire, and these are things that are outside of our control,” she said.
“The financial implications of having issues on farm caused by something that is beyond your control is really profound.
“The flow-on effect is on the whole family. Farmers and their families both live and work on their farms, so that can flow through to youth in agricultural communities.”
The Farmer HAT allows users to check in on their health in private, and researchers hope it leads to open conversations about physical and mental wellbeing in agricultural communities.
“It’s really personal how someone will interact with this tool,” Cotton said.
“This may be the only interaction they’re having with their own health, or the only reflection they’re having.”