Apr 23, 2024 - News

Iowa farmers get team of health advisors, similar to pro athletes

Illustration of a cow wearing a sweatband and blowing a whistle.

Illustration: Lindsey Bailey/Axios

The top athletes in the country get their own team of health care providers, but one local farm co-op wants that same level of care for Iowa farmers.

Why it matters: Like athletes, farmers are working physically demanding jobs that require specific nutrition, mental wellness and rest.

  • But working in more rural environments often means there are barriers to that type of health care.

Driving the news: Des Moines-based Landus hired its first-ever "senior director of training and performance" last month to oversee the new initiative.

  • Dehra Harris is a medical educator who also worked with the Toronto Blue Jays baseball team.

State of play: Farmers have increased heart attack risks, which can be attributed to higher stress, less health care access and putting off needed changes, according to Southern Illinois University.

  • Suicide rates are also nearly twice as high among farmers, according to the CDC. They're facing stressors beyond their control, like weather, commodity prices and changing global markets, IPR reports.

How it works: A Google search for simple health tips won't help Iowa farmers, Harris tells Axios.

  • Her job is to listen and identify their immediate and big-picture health needs. That includes how to get a nutritional meal while working all day or adequate rest, even after birthing a calf at 3am.
  • She plans to travel and provide custom care plans for farms in the co-op. Eventually, Harris wants to hire her own health team, including a dietician and strength and conditioning specialist, similar to what a professional sports team would use.

What they're saying: Kelsi Hosch, who works for her family's farms in Plainfield and Cascade, says hiring and retaining workers in the small towns can be difficult because of health care access. She's hopeful the new program can help.

  • "We don't have the manpower to be able to bring those employees," Hosch says.

The bottom line: "Being rural shouldn't limit the choices that are really impacting your health," Harris says.

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