Monday, September 24, 2018
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Study gauges heart disease risk

Most people think American farmers lead an active lifestyle that keeps them in shape. But just as advanced machinery, computers and fast food have influenced the general population, so has it influenced farmers.

The University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Nursing Lincoln Division has launched a pilot study that will gauge heart disease risk in farmers.

The $20,000 study is funded by the Central States Center for Agricultural Safety and Health at the UNMC College of Public Health and will recruit farmers with the help of two public health districts that cover nine counties in northeast and southeast Nebraska.

“We picture farmers as lifting hay bales and working with cattle,” said Paula Schulz, Ph.D., associate professor, UNMC College of Nursing Lincoln Division. “But so much of farming is automated today that farmers aren’t doing as much physical work.

“They have air conditioned cabs with GPS. They have three-wheelers to check on livestock or drive to the range or barn, they are in front of their computers and eating more fast food like the general population,” she said.

Schulz, principal investigator of the study, said those living in rural areas with geographical and cultural barriers experience greater health disparities in receiving standard risk factor reduction strategies.

She said little is known about the physical activity levels and dietary habits of farmers in today’s environment.

“We have a large number of farmers in Nebraska and because of the disparities that exist, different lifestyle strategies are needed to reduce the risk of heart disease and address health promotion,” she said. “We saw a need and found out no one has done studies to objectively measure physical activity in farmers.”

Researchers will recruit 40 individuals age 19 and older whose main occupation is farming. Recruitment will occur through two public health districts—Public Health Solutions in southeast Nebraska and Elkhorn Logan Valley in northeast Nebraska.

The counties include Fillmore, Gage, Jefferson, Saline, Thayer, Burt, Cuming, Madison and Stanton.

In the one-year study, researchers will collect information about physical activity and dietary habits, quality of life and cardiovascular disease.

The study requires participants to complete survey questions and wear a device that measures activity during peak farming season and during off season.

Researchers hope the information from the small study can be used in future grant proposals to identify strategies that could be tailored to the farming lifestyle to reduce heart disease risk.

Co-investigators of the study are Lani Zimmerman Ph.D., College of Nursing Lincoln Division and Patrick Johansson, M.D., UNMC College of Public Health.

Farmers interested in participating can contact Paula Schulz at (402) 472-7336 or This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .