Academic journal article Environmental Health Perspectives

Pesticide Exposure and Depression among Male Private Pesticide Applicators in the Agricultural Health Study

Academic journal article Environmental Health Perspectives

Pesticide Exposure and Depression among Male Private Pesticide Applicators in the Agricultural Health Study

Article excerpt


Exposure to pesticides, particularly organophosphate insecticides (OPs), may be positively associated with depression (Bazylewicz-Walczak et al. 1999; Beseler and Stallones 2008; Beseler et al. 2006, 2008; Mackenzie Ross et al. 2010; Onwuameze et al. 2013; Rehner et al. 2000; Salvi et al. 2003; Weisskopf et al. 2013; Wesseling et al. 2010). However, only a few of these studies were longitudinal (Bazylewicz-Walczak et al. 1999; Beseler and Stallones 2008; Onwuameze et al. 2013; Salvi et al. 2003)--an important consideration because many people with depression will recover and some may relapse (Colman and Ataullahjan 2010). The largest longitudinal study previously conducted (651 Colorado farmers and their spouses) assessed depression annually for three years using the Center for Epidemiological Studies-Depression Scale (CES-D) and found that individuals who reported past pesticide poisoning at baseline were twice as likely to be depressed during follow-up as those who did not (Beseler and Stallones 2008). That study, however, did not evaluate associations with chronic exposure in the absence of poisoning or to specific pesticides.

The Agricultural Health Study (AHS) is a prospective cohort study, including 52,394 licensed private pesticide applicators (mostly farmers), designed to assess associations between agricultural exposures and health end points (Alavanja et al. 1996). We previously found a higher prevalence of depression among male applicators who reported past pesticide poisoning or use of pesticides from several different classes (Beseler et al. 2008). That study, however, used a cross-sectional design and did not examine specific pesticides. The aim of the current study is to assess associations between pesticide use and depression among male pesticide applicators in the AHS.


Study population and case definition. From 1993 through 1997, pesticide applicators applying for or renewing their pesticide-use licenses at agricultural extension offices in Iowa and North Carolina were invited to enroll in the AHS (Alavanja et al. 1996). A total of 52,394 private applicators (84% of those eligible) enrolled by returning the enrollment questionnaire. An additional baseline questionnaire, the farmer questionnaire, was sent home with all enrolled applicators but returned by only 22,916 (44%). Applicators who returned the farmer questionnaire were older than those who did not, but generally similar otherwise (Tarone et al. 1997). A follow-up telephone interview in 2005-2010, an average of 12.1 years after enrollment, included questions on depression.

We excluded 6,567 applicators because they were female (1,358; 3%), were missing data on depression at enrollment and followup (1,894; 4%), or were missing covariate data (3,315; 6%); 45,827 (87%) applicators remained (Figure 1). In addition, 3,979 (8%) died before the follow-up interview and 20,640 (39%) did not complete it for other reasons. In total, we included 21,208 (40%) applicators in this analysis: 1,702 (8%) who reported ever receiving a physician's diagnosis of depression (cases) and 19,506 (92%) who did not (noncases) (Figure 1).

Information on physician-diagnosed depression came from the enrollment and farmer questionnaires and the follow-up interview (AHS 2013). The enrollment questionnaire asked "Has a doctor ever told you that you had ... [d]epression[?]" and the farmer questionnaire asked "Has a DOCTOR ever told you that you had (been diagnosed with) ... [depression requiring medication or shock therapy?" We considered an applicator who responded affirmatively to either question to have a history of depression at enrollment. At follow-up, we asked "Have you ever been diagnosed with depression?" and "How old were you when you were first diagnosed with depression?" We considered any applicator who reported an age at diagnosis less than his age at enrollment to have a history of depression at enrollment regardless of his response to the enrollment depression questions. …

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