WRITER: LENA BAKER
Photo: Nancy L. Sprince.
CONTACT: DAVE PEDERSEN
Iowa City IA 52242
(319) 335-8032; fax (319) 384-4638
Release: Jan. 16, 2002
UI study finds farmers more likely to suffer from back
farmers have a significantly higher prevalence of back pain than the general
working population, according to a study by researchers at the University
of Iowa College of Public Health.
This finding, in a study published in the December
2001 issue of the American Journal of Industrial Medicine, is one of the first
of its kind, said Nancy L. Sprince, M.D., UI professor of occupational and
environmental health and co-author of the study.
"Aside from one Colorado study, there have been few
studies assessing populations of farmers in an entire state or region for
back pain," said Sprince. "There have been studies that have focused on back
pain in other occupations, such as nursing and construction workers, but few
have focused on farmers."
The results were based on responses from 287 Iowa
male farmers enrolled in the Iowa Farm Family Health and Hazard Survey (IFFHHS),
a population-based study that assessed diseases and injuries in relation to
farm exposures. This part of the Farm Family Study looked at risk factors
for back pain among male farmers. The data were collected from 1992 to 1994
by mail questionnaires from farm families in 18 Iowa counties, two counties
from each of the state's nine crop and livestock reporting regions. A cooperative
agreement with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health funded
On the questionnaire, UI researchers looked at a number
of risk factors pertaining to demographic, personal, economic and occupational
aspects. Some of these risk factors included age, height, weight, smoking
and alcohol use, depression status, farm size, range of income, occupational
exposures such as number of years worked as a farmer, major farming activities,
primary occupation, and off-the-farm work.
UI researchers found that male Iowa farmers ages 45
to 59 were about twice as likely to experience back pain for a week or more
than younger and older farmers. Male Iowa farmers also
had a slightly higher prevalence of back pain than farmers
from other states. The study also found that farmers who also work in a second
job off the farm are more likely to experience back pain than farmers who
do not work in a second job off the farm. Sprince noted that this is an important
issue because more and more farmers today have to take on second jobs.
"There has been a trend over the last 10 years for
increasing numbers of farmers having to work at second jobs off the farm.
These second jobs could be in construction work, service work or transportation.
This type of work, in addition to their regular farming duties, could put
farmers at greater risk for conditions such as back pain that are related
to repeated tasks involving lifting, heavy physical work, forceful movements
and exposures to vibration," said Sprince, who directs the Heartland Center
for Occupational Health and Safety in the UI College of Public Health.
She added that the study findings may help in designing
prevention programs for back pain among farmers.