Reducing psychological distress and obesity in Australian farmers by promoting physical activity

Brumby, Susan; Chandrasekara, Ananda; McCoombe, Scott; Torres, Susan; Kremer, Peter; Lewandowski, Paul
January 2011
BMC Public Health;2011 Supplement 4, Vol. 11 Issue Suppl 4, p362
Academic Journal
Background: Studies have confirmed that the rate of mental illness is no higher in rural Australians than that of urban Australians. However, the rate of poor mental health outcomes, and in particular suicide, is significantly raised in rural populations. This is thought to be due to lack of early diagnosis, health service access, the distance-decay effect, poor physical health determinants and access to firearms. Research conducted by the National Centre for Farmer Health between 2004 and 2009 reveals that there is a correlation between obesity and psychological distress among the farming community where suicide rates are recognised as high. Chronic stress overstimulates the regulation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis that is associated with abdominal obesity. Increasing physical activity may block negative thoughts, increase social contact, positively influence brain chemistry and improve both physical and mental health. This paper describes the design of the Farming Fit study that aims to identify the effect of physical activity on psychological distress, obesity and health behaviours such as diet patterns and smoking in farm men and women. Methods/Design: For this quasi-experimental (convenience sample) control-intervention study, overweight (Body Mass Index ≥25 kg/m²) farm men and women will be recruited from Sustainable Farm Families™ (SFF) programs held across Victoria, Australia. Baseline demographic data, health data, depression anxiety stress scale (DASS) scores, dietary information, physical activity data, anthropometric data, blood pressure and biochemical analysis of plasma and salivary cortisol levels will be collected. The intervention group will receive an exercise program and regular phone coaching in order to increase their physical activity. Analysis will evaluate the impact of the intervention by longitudinal data (baseline and post intervention) comparison of intervention and control groups. Discussion: This study is designed to examine the effect of physical activity on psychological health and other comorbidities such as obesity, impaired glucose tolerance, hypertension and dyslipidaemia within a high-risk cohort. The outcomes of this research will be relevant to further research and service delivery programs, in particular those tailored to rural communities.


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