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Occupation and motor neuron disease: a New Zealand case–control study
  1. Grace Xia Chen1,
  2. Andrea Martine ’t Mannetje1,
  3. Jeroen Douwes1,
  4. Leonard van den Berg2,
  5. Neil Pearce3,
  6. Hans Kromhout4,
  7. Wendyl D’Souza5,
  8. Melanie McConnell6,
  9. Bill Glass1,
  10. Naomi Brewer1,
  11. David J McLean1
  1. 1 Centre for Public Health Research, Massey University, Wellington, New Zealand
  2. 2 Brain Centre Rudolf Magnus, Department of Neurology, University Medical Centre, Utrecht, The Netherlands
  3. 3 Department of Medical Statistics, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, London, UK
  4. 4 Institute for Risk Assessment Sciences, Utrecht University, Utrecht, The Netherlands
  5. 5 Department of Medicine, St Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne, University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
  6. 6 School of Biological Sciences, Victoria University, Wellington, New Zealand
  1. Correspondence to Grace Xia Chen, Centre for Public Health Research, Massey University, Wellington 6140, New Zealand; g.chen1{at}


Objectives To assess associations between occupation and motor neuron disease (MND).

Methods We conducted a population-based case–control study with cases (n=321) recruited through the New Zealand Motor Neurone Disease Association and hospital discharge data. Controls (n=605) were recruited from the Electoral Roll. Information on personal and demographic details, lifestyle factors and a full occupational history was collected using questionnaires and interviews. Associations with ever/never employed and employment duration were estimated using logistic regression stratified by sex and adjusted for age, ethnicity, socioeconomic deprivation, education and smoking.

Results Elevated risks were observed for field crop and vegetable growers (OR 2.93, 95% CI 1.10 to 7.77); fruit growers (OR 2.03, 95% CI 1.09 to 3.78); gardeners and nursery growers (OR 1.96, 95% CI 1.01 to 3.82); crop and livestock producers (OR 3.61, 95% CI 1.44 to 9.02); fishery workers, hunters and trappers (OR 5.62, 95% CI 1.27 to 24.97); builders (OR 2.90, 95% CI 1.41 to 5.96); electricians (OR 3.61, 95% CI 1.34 to 9.74); caregivers (OR 2.65, 95% CI 1.04 to 6.79); forecourt attendants (OR 8.31, 95% CI 1.79 to 38.54); plant and machine operators and assemblers (OR 1.42, 95% CI 1.01 to 2.01); telecommunications technicians (OR 4.2, 95% CI 1.20 to 14.64); and draughting technicians (OR 3.02, 95% CI 1.07 to 8.53). Industries with increased risks were agriculture (particularly horticulture and fruit growing), construction, non-residential care services, motor vehicle retailing, and sport and recreation. Positive associations between employment duration and MND were shown for the occupations fruit growers, gardeners and nursery growers, and crop and livestock producers, and for the horticulture and fruit growing industry.

Conclusions This study suggests associations between MND and occupations in agriculture and several other occupations.

  • epidemiology
  • public health

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  • Contributors We are grateful to the study participants, the Motor Neurone Disease Association New Zealand and their field staff for their generous support and contribution to the study.

  • Funding The study was funded by a grant from the Health Research Council (HRC) of New Zealand (Part of 11/1041 HRC Programme Grant – Building Research in Occupational Health in New Zealand).

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Ethics approval Ethical approval was granted by the New Zealand Multi-region Ethics Committee (ref: MEC/12/01/005).

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Patient consent for publication Obtained.