Obesity Among America's Firefighters: Do We Need Fitness Standards?

My Bariatric Life Health Guide
  • The Problem of Obesity Among America's Firefighters

    A few days ago my husband and I were walking through Market Square in downtown Indianapolis. As we walked, a young police officer who was in his mid to late twenties, made his way down the sidewalk. As he passed us, we gave a cordial nod that he returned, and we all continued our seperate business. 

    After a minute or two of silence my husband said, "That policeman was kind of plump for his age. I can't picture him outrunning some kid who just stole a purse, can you?" As a matter of fact, I could not. We wondered if there was any fitness standard that police officers needed to maintain given the nature of their profession. 

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    One would think that certain occupations have some gold standard for physical fitness because of the demands of the job. I would imagine police officer would be among them as well as firefighter. Climbing stairwells beneath the weight of a fifty pound oxygen tank and a twenty pound ax must be strenuous -- not to mention the additional bulk of boots and protective gear. If anyone was in prime shape, it must be a firefighter, right?


    Well, not exactly. According to a recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 70% of domestic firefighters are overweight or obese. This rate is slightly higher than that of the general population.


    The Abesnce of Accountability for Poor Conditioning

    While firefighters must prove they are capable of addressing the physical demands of the profession, once they have done this there is no concrete standard for fitness that must be maintained for job security. The CDC has made clear the consequences of this.


    Nearly half of the deaths of firefighters while on duty are cardiovascular-related and a link between job-related disabilities and obesity has been established. While the National Volunteer Fire Counsel and the National Fire Protection Association collaborate on guidelines for healthy and positive behaviors, there are no laws governing fitness standards for firefighters. 


    Budget restraints and time limitations make the task difficult as well as the fact that about 71% of fire departments in the United States are comprised of volunteers. Some worry that attempts to enforce physical standards could result in a mass exodus.


    An Occupational Problem

    An explanation as to why obesity is so prevalent among firefighters is the nature of the work itself. The job is stressful and the pace of the daily schedule can be extreme. This constant on the go lifestyle translates into over-indulgence of fast foods. In addition, firefighters incorrectly assume that the physical activity of the job is enough for good health.  


    There have been successful efforts to address the problem as in a program established in Rhode Island. A health and wellness communitywas established and expanded to merge eight seperate units into a single fitness center. Along with substantial weight loss, there has been a reduction in smoking and consumption of alcohol.  


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Published On: July 26, 2014