Context: The Agricultural Health Study (AHS) is a large, prospective cohort study in the states of Iowa and North Carolina that has been developed to better understand how pesticides and other agricultural exposures relate to the occurrence of cancer and other diseases.
Purpose: This report compares the characteristics of AHS farmers to the Census of Agriculture to evaluate the generalizability of AHS findings.
Methods: We restricted the AHS to private pesticide applicators who enrolled in Iowa (n = 31,065) and in North Carolina (n = 17,239) between 1993 and 1997, and who identified themselves as living or working on a farm. We compared their self-reported data with data from the 1992 and 1997 Censuses of Agriculture.
Findings: AHS farmers in Iowa are younger; live or work on larger farms; more frequently apply herbicides, insecticides, and fungicides; and are more likely to raise beef cattle and swine, and grow corn, soybeans, hay, and oats. AHS farmers in North Carolina are also younger, live or work on larger farms, more frequently reported growing crops commonly seen in the state, and are more frequent pesticide users. However, animals raised are similar to those in the North Carolina Census of Agriculture.
Conclusions: AHS farmers likely represent the higher end of pesticide usage in both states in part because AHS farmers have larger farms. Since the health effects of pesticides are best ascertained among pesticide users with the greatest exposure, the AHS cohort should prove to be a valuable resource for health effects research.