Obesity rate for firefighters 'higher than public'

NVFC found that overweight, obesity rates in firefighters range from 73 percent to 88 percent, higher than nationwide average


Rates of overweight and obese individuals in the fire service are higher than those found in the general public, according to a new study.

Researchers looked at the body composition of both career and volunteer firefighters across the nation, with overweight and obesity rates ranging from 73 percent to 88 percent.

About two-thirds of Americans are overweight or obese on a general, national level.

The research demonstrates that a large percentage of firefighters do not meet minimal standards of physical fitness, according to the study conducted by the NVFC.

"Addressing the Epidemic of Obesity in the United States Fire Service" looks at the impact of obesity, the scope of obesity in the fire service, and why obesity has become an epidemic.

Occupational factors may place firefighters at high risk for weight gain, including:

• Shift work
• Sleep disruption
• Unhealthy eating patterns in the firehouse
• The absence of fitness standards for firefighters

"This report will urge everyone from national fire service leadership, to department chiefs, to individual firefighters to think creatively and join in efforts to reverse the negative trends of unhealthy body weight and poor physical fitness," the report says.

"It is time to begin a national conversation regarding obesity in the fire service."

The report outlines how overweight and obese firefighters have been shown to suffer from a large number of problems compared to their colleagues, including hypertension, higher risks for cardiovascular disease, low fitness, reduced muscular strength, and more frequent cardiac events.

"Overweight and obese firefighters are less fit to perform their jobs and cost fire departments significantly more than firefighters with a healthy weight," the report adds.

Snacking was identified as a particular challenge at the firehouse; having an abundance of high sugar or high carbohydrate snacks around the station was consistently reported as being a big challenge among those surveyed.

“You have that downtime, you know, and it’s easier to have M&Ms, a Snickers bar in the firehouse than it is to have a carrot or celery," said one responder to the survey.

Another said, "What kills us sometimes is during, like, holidays or like, 9/11, families around the fire station bring in food. And they mean the best intentions, but they bring in the worst food for you -- cookies, cake, and stuff.”

As firefighters gain more weight, research has found that cardiorespiratory fitness plummets and the risk of cardiovascular disease increases, the report says.

"There is solid evidence that suggests physical fitness is related to job performance and the performance of simulated firefighting tasks (e.g., hose and ladder carry, donning SCBA, climbing three flights of stairs, rescue and body drag, etc.).

"The fact that so many firefighters are not fit is troubling. This situation may be at least partially due to lack of agreement over fitness and body composition standards in the fire service and the fact that few departments engage in regular monitoring of body composition and physical fitness in their firefighters."

Among the recommendations the report makes for the fire service to combat obesity and increase fitness are:

• Fire departments should consider conducting annual fitness assessments.
• Minimal fitness recommendations for all firefighters should be a priority.
• An effective fitness program can be implemented by fire departments at minimal cost and using existing facilities.

The NVFC partnered with the HOPE Health Research Institute for the report, which was supported by the U.S. Fire Administration.

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