Study: Obesity Rate for Firefighters 'Higher than General Public'

Rates of overweight and obese individuals in the fire service are higher than those found in the general public, ranging from 73 percent to 88 percent of firefighters, according to the study.

The National Volunteer Fire Council (NVFC), with support from the U.S. Fire Administration, has partnered with the HOPE Health Research Institute to conduct a study on obesity in the fire service. With the growing epidemic of obesity throughout the country and in the fire service industry, this study provides information for firefighters and EMS personnel to learn more about the causes of the problem and what they can do to reverse this potentially life-threatening trend.

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. It highlights innovative trends in nutrition and fitness that firefighters can use and presents recommendations for combating obesity and increasing fitness.

Obesity is a major risk factor for potentially life-threatening illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and cholesterol, sleep apnea, and cancer. Obesity can also have a negative impact on a firefighter’s job performance. In addition, heart attacks are consistently the leading cause of on-duty firefighter fatalities.

The following statistics appear in the study:

  • Rates of overweight and obese individuals in the fire service are higher than those found in the general public, ranging from 73 percent to 88 percent of firefighters.
  • Research demonstrates that a large percentage of firefighters do not meet minimal standards of physical fitness.
  • Occupational factors may place firefighters at high risk for weight gain, including shift work, sleep disruption, unhealthy eating patterns in the firehouse, and the absence of fitness standards for firefighters.
  • 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.
  • Several initiatives have attempted to address the high levels of overweight, obese, and unfit firefighters, including NFPA 1583: Standard on Health-Related Fitness Programs for Fire Department Members; NFPA 1582: Standard on Comprehensive Occupational Medical Programs for Fire Departments; NVFC’s Heart-Healthy Firefighter Program; NVFC and U.S. Fire Administration’s Health and Wellness Guide for the Volunteer Fire and Emergency Services; and the International Association of Fire Fighters/International Association of Fire Chiefs’ Wellness/Fitness Initiative.

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