Is Your Local Firefighter in Fitness Fighting Shape?
I think most of us consider firefighters our heroes. They are the ones ready to face any size blaze to save lives and property. If you’ve ever experienced a home fire (I have) then you know the rush of fear that overwhelms you as you see your property engulfed in flames. Or maybe you’ve been a bystander watching as these professionals storm building or homes engulfed in flames, ready to put their lives on the line, to save others. Intuitively it would seem that to be a successful firefighter you have to be in tip top shape. So it may come as a huge surprise that “obesity is a BIG problem for U.S. firefighters.”
The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) says that currently more than 70% of firefighters are overweight or obese. Many of these individuals have not been offered any advice on weight loss from their healthcare providers, despite the fact that national guidelines suggest that healthcare professionals should advise ALL patients on appropriate weight standards. Certainly firefighters will be challenged to run, climb and perform other physical duties to optimal standards, when carrying personal excess weight in addition to weighty gear. So it’s a bit shocking to realize that so many firefighters are obese and not receiving adequate guidance to shed these extra pounds. This is especially worrisome in light of the fact that cardiovascular events are the leading cause of line-of-duty deaths among male firefighters. Increased risk of deaths from cancer also seems to be a significant consideration among firefighters, and again, linked to obesity rates.
Being overweight is certainly a health hazard and a problem for many professionals. But being a firefighter means daily stress and daily physical challenges on the job, and that job require optimal stamina and performance levels. Obesity directly impairs firefighting abilities. In this CDC study, researchers found that despite 96% of the firefighters acknowledging a once-a-year visit with a health professional, only 69% of all firefighters and 48% of obese firefighters said they received some measure of diet, exercise or weight-related counseling. About half of the study respondents said they had at least one obesity-related health issue, like heart disease. The study also noted that younger firefighters also received less weight counseling, compared to older firefighters. Luckily, some fire departments are seizing the moment, to instigate wellness initiatives at their local fire houses. One of the impediments may be the personal perception of the men themselves. “Big equals strong” may be interfering with the reality that big often equals overweight.
Back in 2011, one Los Angeles firehouse was already instituting healthier cooking, swapping out potatoes and meat for meals that included chicken, fish, pita, and salads, thanks to its female chef. New York City firefighter chef Joseph Bonanno, a nutritionist and fitness trainer, helped to launch a firefighter cooking show, American Firehouse Cuisine, with a large online healthy recipe finder.
The problem is, we need these efforts to impact firehouses and firemen (and women) nationwide. And if my personal observations are correct, we also need these efforts to impact police forces nationwide. The men in blue I am seeing about town, could not possibly out run the average perpetrator!
Amy Hendel is a Physician Assistant and Health Coach with over 20 years of experience. Noted author, journalist and lifestyle expert, she brings extensive expertise to her monthly shareposts. Her most recent book, The 4 Habits of Healthy Families is available for purchase online, and you can watch her in action on her shows Food Rescue and What's for Lunch? Sign up for her daily health tweets or catch her daily news report at www.healthgal.com.