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Open Access Hypothesis

Farming fit? Dispelling the Australian agrarian myth

Susan Brumby12*, Ananda Chandrasekara12, Scott McCoombe12, Peter Kremer3 and Paul Lewandowski2

Author Affiliations

1 National Centre for Farmer Health, Western District Health Service, Hamilton Vic 3300, Australia

2 School of Medicine, Deakin University, Geelong Vic 3217, Australia

3 School of Psychology, Deakin University, Geelong Vic 3217, Australia

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BMC Research Notes 2011, 4:89  doi:10.1186/1756-0500-4-89

Published: 30 March 2011

Abstract

Background

Rural Australians face a higher mental health and lifestyle disease burden (obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease) than their urban counterparts. Our ongoing research reveals that the Australian farming community has even poorer physical and mental health outcomes than rural averages. In particular, farm men and women have high rates of overweightness, obesity, abdominal adiposity, high blood pressure and psychological distress when compared against Australian averages. Within our farming cohort we observed a significant association between psychological distress and obesity, abdominal adiposity and body fat percentage in the farming population.

Presentation of hypothesis

This paper presents a hypothesis based on preliminary data obtained from an ongoing study that could potentially explain the complex correlation between obesity, psychological distress and physical activity among a farming population. We posit that spasmodic physical activity, changing farm practices and climate variability induce prolonged stress in farmers. This increases systemic cortisol that, in turn, promotes abdominal adiposity and weight gain.

Testing the hypothesis

The hypothesis will be tested by anthropometric, biochemical and psychological analysis matched against systemic cortisol levels and the physical activity of the subjects.

Implications of the hypothesis tested

Previous studies indicate that farming populations have elevated rates of psychological distress and high rates of suicide. Australian farmers have recently experienced challenging climatic conditions including prolonged drought, floods and cyclones. Through our interactions and through the media it is not uncommon for farmers to describe the effect of this long-term stress with feelings of 'defeat'. By gaining a greater understanding of the role cortisol and physical activity have on mental and physical health we may positively impact the current rates of psychological distress in farmers.

Trial registration

ACTRN12610000827033