Study Shows Farm Workers at High Risk for Chronic Disease
Risks for chronic disease are "startlingly high" for California's farm workers, mostly "young men who would normally be in the peak of physical condition," according to a report from the California Endowment released yesterday. The report is the first statewide health survey of agricultural workers to include comprehensive physical exams. It surveyed workers in five of the state's six agricultural regions -- Sacramento Valley, North Coast, San Joaquin Valley, Central Coast and South Coast. The California Agriculture Worker Health Survey includes responses from 971 agriculture workers who agreed to participate in one-and-a-half hour interviews at their residences. In addition, 652 of those workers surveyed completed comprehensive medical examinations and private interviews about risk behaviors at a clinic. Most of the survey respondents were young, married, Mexican men with little formal education and "very low annual incomes." According to the report, of the 652 workers who completed the medical exams and private interviews:
- 18% of male respondents had at least two of three risk factors for chronic disease: high cholesterol, high blood pressure or obesity;
- both male and female respondents exhibited higher blood pressure than the general U.S. adult population;
- 81% of male respondents and 76% of female respondents had "unhealthful weight" according to body mass index measurements, and 28% of males and 37% of females were considered obese;
- both males and females were more likely to have iron deficiency anemia than the general U.S. adult population; and
- more than 33% of men had at least one decayed tooth, and nearly 40% of women had at least one broken or missing tooth.
Of the 971 farm workers who completed the one-and-a-half-hour interview:
- 70% of respondents lacked health insurance, and only 7% were covered by a government-funded plan;
- 16.5% of respondents said their employer offered insurance, but about 33% of those respondents said the plan was too expensive for them to afford;
- 32% of men said they had never been to a doctor or clinic in their lives, while a "plurality" of women said they had had a medical visit within the previous five months;
- more than 66% of respondents reported that they had never had an eye care visit.
Lead author Don Villarejo of the California Institute for Rural Studies said that while there have been "numerous studies" on farm workers and their health, many of the reports have been "confined to smaller areas, specific diseases or specific types of crops," in contrast to the statewide scope of this report. He added, "If you want to make statewide decisions, you have to have statewide data on the problem." Co-author Bonnie Bade of California State University-San Marcos said that while the public "may not be surprised to hear that the farm worker population" has health problems, people "still need to understand the scope of the problem." She added, "This is the cause of a larger problem, having to do with labor issues, with immigration policy, with public health and legislation, a whole host of problems out there" (Petrillo, San Diego Union-Tribune, 2/8). For a copy of the report, go to http://www.calendow.org/frm_pub.htm. Note: You will need Adobe Acrobat Reader to download the report.This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.