The rate of firefighter obesity outpaces the national average with about 73% to 88% cases in the fire service, so found a National Volunteer Fire Council and U.S. Fire Administration–funded obesity report.
The rate of firefighter obesity outpaces the national average with about 73% to 88% cases in the fire service, so found a National Volunteer Fire Council and U.S. Fire Administration–funded obesity report. HOPE Health Research Institute conducted the report on behalf of the NFVC andto document the causes of obesity in the fire service and provide action steps to reverse the potentially life-threatening trend.
The report, “Addressing the Epidemic of Obesity in the United States Fire Service,” examined the impact of obesity in the fire service and why it has become an epidemic. Researchers also provided nutritional and fitness recommendations, so firefighters can combat obesity and increase fitness, said Kenn Fontenot, NVFC’s health and safety committee chair.
“The report was to validate and confirm the health issues we have in the fire service, both volunteer and career,” Fontenot said.
Obesity can lead to heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and cholesterol, sleep apnea and cancer. It also can have a negative impact on a firefighter’s job performance as they find themselves failing to meet the minimal standards of physical fitness.
Occupational factors may place firefighters at high risk for weight gain, including shift work, sleep disruption and the absence of fitness standards for firefighters.
“Part of the issue is work schedules, stress, interrupted sleep and lack of activity during the shifts,” Fontenot said.
Food served at the firehouse is another obesity cause. Many firehouses reinforce poor eating habits and unhealthy nutrition, the report found. Firefighters often consume diets high in processed carbohydrates and sugar, which promote obesity and cardiovascular disease.
Instead, firefighters should eat natural, whole foods and avoid processed foods, fast food and sugar. Specifically, the firehouse should embrace ancestral eating — a diet of fruits, vegetables and meats — and avoid foods that have entered the U.S. food supply only recently — foods like processed meats and those high in preservatives or salt.
In addition, firefighters should engage in high-intensity training and complete functional exercise focused on natural movements that mimic activities involved in firefighting.
“The firehouse must implement a comprehensive health program,” Fontenot said. “Physical fitness is only part of it. It also means a change in lifestyle, a reduction in tobacco usage and a better nutrition plan, so when they eat, they eat what is good for them.”
However, there has been some push back from firefighters on the issue, Fontenot said.
“The membership feels that [implementing programs] would be a methodology to remove people who are unfit to do their jobs,” he said. “The approach we chiefs need to take is when we find issues that it’s not a punishment but we create a pathway to make them healthy.”
Initiatives that address overweight, obese and unfit firefighters, include NFPA 1583, Health-Related Fitness Programs for Fire Department Members; NFPA 1582, Comprehensive Occupational Medical Programs for Fire Departments; the NVFC’s Heart-Healthy Firefighter Program; the 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/Wellness/Fitness Initiative.
Sidebar:Recommendations for the Fire Service for Combating Obesity and Increasing Fitness
- Significantly improve their nutrition
- Consider conducting annual fitness assessments
- Minimal fitness recommendations for all firefighters should be a priority
Source: Addressing the Epidemic of Obesity in the United States Fire Service