Respiratory disease in United States farmers

Occup Environ Med. 2014 Jul;71(7):484-91. doi: 10.1136/oemed-2013-101983.


Objectives: Farmers may be at increased risk for adverse respiratory outcomes compared with the general population due to their regular exposures to dusts, animals and chemicals. However, early life farm exposures to microbial agents may result in reduced risk. Understanding respiratory disease risk among farmers and identifying differences between farmers and other populations may lead to better understanding of the contribution of environmental exposures to respiratory disease risk in the general population.

Methods: We compared the prevalence of self-reported respiratory outcomes in 43548 participants from the Agricultural Health Study (AHS), a prospective cohort of farmers and their spouses from Iowa and North Carolina, with data from adult participants in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) over the same period (2005-2010).

Results: AHS participants had lower prevalences of respiratory diseases (asthma, adult-onset asthma, chronic bronchitis and emphysema), but higher prevalences of current respiratory symptoms (wheeze, cough and phlegm) even after controlling for smoking, body mass index and population characteristics. The overall prevalence of asthma in the AHS (7.2%, 95% CI 6.9 to 7.4) was 52% of that in NHANES (13.8%, 95% CI 13.3 to 14.3), although the prevalence of adult-onset asthma among men did not differ (3.6% for AHS, 3.7% for NHANES). Conversely, many respiratory symptoms were more common in the AHS than NHANES, particularly among men.

Conclusions: These findings suggest that farmers and their spouses have lower risk for adult-onset respiratory diseases compared with the general population, and potentially higher respiratory irritation as evidenced by increased respiratory symptoms.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Agriculture*
  • Air Pollutants / adverse effects*
  • Asthma / epidemiology
  • Asthma / etiology
  • Cough / epidemiology
  • Cough / etiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Iowa / epidemiology
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Mucus / metabolism
  • North Carolina / epidemiology
  • Nutrition Surveys
  • Occupational Diseases / epidemiology
  • Occupational Diseases / etiology*
  • Occupational Exposure / adverse effects*
  • Prevalence
  • Prospective Studies
  • Respiration Disorders / epidemiology
  • Respiration Disorders / etiology*
  • Respiratory Sounds / etiology*
  • Risk Factors
  • Sex Factors
  • Spouses
  • Young Adult


  • Air Pollutants