News Release

Major new study shows “concerning” levels of physical and mental health problems among farmers and agricultural workers

Peer-Reviewed Publication

University of Exeter

A major new study shows “concerning” levels of physical and mental health problems among farmers and agricultural workers.

The survey of thousands of people living and working in farming shows a higher proportion are experiencing pain, mobility problems and anxiety and depression than the wider population.

Experts say their research is “compelling evidence” of the need to tackle physical and mental health issues in the agricultural industry to ensure better wellbeing and ensure the future sustainability of UK food production.

They surveyed 15,296 people living and working in agriculture in England and Wales about their health and wellbeing.

A total of 24 per cent of respondents reported problems with mobility, 21 per cent reported problems with performing their usual activities; 52 per cent reported moderate or extreme problems with pain/discomfort; and 31 per cent reported problems with anxiety/depression.

Women reported fewer problems with mobility, self-care, performing usual activities and pain/discomfort than men, but more problems with anxiety/depression.

A total of 64 per cent of respondents said that they had experienced farm-related ‘pain in muscles/joints etc.’, and 16 per cent had sustained a non-fatal injury, in the past five years.

The research, by Rebecca Wheeler and Matt Lobley from the University of Exeter, is published in the journal BMC Public Health.

Dr Wheeler said: “Clearly we surveyed people during the pandemic and coronavirus has had an impact, but this doesn’t account for all of the disparities we found. This is part of a growing body of evidence about the significant mental and physical health problems among farmers and the link with personal, family and business-related challenges commonly faced by members of this community.

“The high levels of self-reported anxiety/depression among working-aged people in our sample might be explained by the numerous drivers  of farm and business-related stress reported by respondents, including those associated with workload, regulatory demands and paperwork, bad weather, disease, social isolation and maintaining economic viability.”

Respondents reported fewer problems with mobility and self-care than the wider population, particularly in the older age groups. This could suggest that farm work positively contributes to physical fitness later in life but it could also be a consequence of the requirement for a certain level of fitness in order to stay in agriculture.

Professor Lobley said: “This particular piece of research forms part of a larger body of work conducted by the CRPR in recent years and provides further compelling evidence of the need to understand and address both physical and mental health issues among people living and working in agriculture. The results should be seen as an imperative for action as, ultimately, a sustainable and resilient food system requires a healthy agricultural workforce able to maintain and improve production without detriment to themselves and their families.”

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