Farmers’ eating habits – mixed bag of results

Many male Irish farmers are overconsuming meat, fried food and salt.

According to a new study by Teagasc and the National Centre for Men’s Health’s led by Diana Van Doorn, they are also eating too much sugary and/or salty snacks, and fruit and vegetables don’t seem to get enough of a look-in. As well as that, they are shopping in supermarkets and delis rather than growing their own food.

Three hundred and fourteen farmers participated in the study and the average age was 41 years. On the plus side, most of the farmers surveyed said they were moderately or very active.

Given the results, authors of the study are calling for more educational programmes to help farmers learn about healthy eating.

This is in light of other studies having already shown that farmers are at serious health risk due to lifestyle. The facts are stark – farmers are five times more likely to die of heart disease, three times more likely to die of cancer and seven times more likely to die from injury than “white collar” workers.

Add to that the fact that increased injuries are internationally reported as being associated with being overweight or obese (because of reduced mobility) and it’s a serious situation.

“Irish farmers undoubtedly produce food with health benefits,” says the author. “However, limited home consumption of own-farm-produced food now occurs and, as a result, farm families source foods in supermarkets and food outlets.”

Key findings:

  • Sixty-two per cent of farmers were overweight or obese.
  • Half of farmers (53%) considered that they were “about the right weight”, but based on BMI calculations they were in fact classified as being overweight or obese.
  • Thirty-one per cent of farmers in the study were actively trying to lose weight.
  • A further 15% were advised by a doctor to lose weight.
  • Almost one in four farmers reported not having consumed any fruit or vegetable the previous day.
  • Younger farmers (under 45 years of age) were significantly more likely to report consumption of processed meats on most days of the week.
  • One in five farmers reported smoking (20%) and drinking alcohol one or more times weekly (22%).
  • The majority (93%) reported being moderately/highly physically active.
  • “This information indicates mixed knowledge levels related to weight management among farmers,” says the author.

    Diana and the co-authors* of the study are calling for more educational programmes to assist farmers with health knowledge, including around diet.

    The paper Investigating the Dietary Habits of Male Irish Farmers to Prevent Mortality and Morbidity is available on

    Farmers are advised to consult the HSE’s ‘How to Eat Well’ information for comprehensive guidance on healthy eating.

    *Co-authors of the study highlighted above are Dr Noel Richardson, Dr Caitriona Cunningham, Professor Catherine Blake, Dr Aoife Osborne and Dr John McNamara.

    Men’s heart health focus in September

    Men’s heart health will be the focus this September during ‘Heart Month’, says the Irish Heart Foundation, who will be getting support with this initiative from the HSE.

    Why men’s heart health? Well, in Ireland, one in four men die from heart disease and stroke. The good news is that 80% of those deaths can be prevented through healthy lifestyle choices.  

    Some men feel it’s too difficult to make drastic changes to their lifestyle, but there’s no need for them to “hang up their boots” just yet. The campaign will have lots of engaging tips, tools and resources to help men all over Ireland make small, sustainable healthy changes to their lifestyle which can help reduce their risk of heart disease and stroke. 

    For more information now and throughout September click here.

    Back to school focus: shoes, schoolbags and navigating COVID-19

    Getting the footwear right

    It’s that time of year again when shopping for school shoes is a must. These tips for buying school shoes are from Thomas Farrel of Podiatry Ireland:

    1 Measure feet properly

    Don’t be tempted to buy shoes that are too big in order to allow your children to grow into them. Shoes that are too big wear out more quickly. Your child will drag the shoes along the ground causing the soles to wear thin. They will also be more easily scuffed as your child won’t be able to pick their feet up properly. Consequently, you will likely end up paying for new school shoes sooner than if you were to buy the correct sized shoes. Always have shoes fitted to both length and width. All good quality school shoes will have various sizes available.

    2 Fastening

    It is important to have laces or other fastening such as Velcro to hold the foot in place so it does not slip forward and cause the toes to scrunch and claw. This can damage the front of the foot and can lead to the development of hammer-toes (where the toes buckle) and clawed toes, which can become permanent.

    3 Flexibility

    Soles should be flexible, but only at the ball of the foot, not at the mid-point, and with sufficient cushioning. The sole should not be rigid, but nor should you be able to roll it up into a ball or bend it in half. A supportive sole must be robust enough for walking, running and jumping.

    4 Rigid heel counter

    This is important because the heel acts as the support of the foot and must be held in a stable position so that it does not lean in (pronation) or out (supination) too much, possibly leading to pain and posture problems. If you can easily press in the sides of the heel, it is not providing enough support for the growing foot. Also, shoes do not need any type of arch support – by definition an arch is a sale supporting structure.

    5 Quality

    Expect to spend from €60 upwards on a well-made, properly fitted pair of leather shoes. They are an investment for good foot health – even if children outgrow them quickly. Leather shoes allow the feet to breath.

    Common mistakes when buying kids’ shoes include:

  • Expecting one pair of shoes last the whole year.
  • Leaving your child at home when shopping for shoes.
  • Buying shoes for school that are not ‘school’ shoes (eg ballet shoes provide no support).
  • Not having both feet professionally measured every time.
  • Not allowing room for “toe wiggle”.
  • Accepting ‘hand-me-downs’ or ‘slip-on’ shoes.
  • Buying shoes first thing in the morning.
  • Source: Podiatry Ireland

    Schoolbags: advice to save the back

    These are internationally accepted rules related to schoolbag wearing:

  • Generally, a child shouldn’t carry more than 10% of his/her own bodyweight.
  • Make sure it only contains what they need that day.
  • Place the heaviest items closest to the back of the bag.
  • Choose a bag that can be carried on the back, is padded and has wide, adjustable shoulder straps and is the correct size for your child.
  • It should be worn over both shoulders to promote good posture.
  • To put the bag on the back it should be placed on a surface and arms then put through the straps – no swinging the bag round to get it on their back.
  • Bags should be worn tight against the shoulder, not hanging halfway down pupil’s back.
  • Bags shouldn’t be too wide. The smaller the bag for primary schoolchildren the better.
  • Wheelie bags are very practical.
  • Good posture should be taught. If a bag is too big and not properly strapped to the shoulders the child’s head goes forward and the body is not aligned which can lead to back issues and shoulder tension.
  • COVID-19 guidelines for school

    There will be updated guidelines for school nearer to term time, but these still apply:

    Your child should not attend school if they are displaying any symptoms of COVID-19.

    Students at school must keep their physical distance from one another outside of the classroom and work within the classroom in designated groupings or ‘bubbles’.

    Schools will also encourage:

  • Increased handwashing.
  • Enhanced cleaning regimes.
  • Staggered breaks and lunchtimes.
  • Rules for children using school transport.
  • Your shed and dementia

    The Irish Men’s Sheds Association has launched a new manual entitled Your Shed & Dementia, aimed at raising awareness of the condition, as well as offering advice for “Shedders”, their families and carers on supporting a member with dementia.

    Developed in partnership with the HSE’s Dementia: Understand Together campaign and The Alzheimer Society of Ireland, the manual offers tools to help Shedders recognise signs of dementia, as well as offering practical communication and listening tips.

    The Your Shed & Dementia manual can be downloaded directly from