• Firefighting Obesity: The Not-So-Silent Problem
    In 2011, overweight and obese firefighters missed five times more work due to injury than firefighters working at a normal, healthy weight. Obesity is a becoming a serious issue in the first responder community, with many firefighters missing work due to weight-related health issues.
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  • Obesity FirefighterAn article published in 2011 stated that over the last year, overweight and obese firefighters missed five times as much work because of injury than firefighters working at a normal, healthy weight. In addition, obesity related firefighter absences are costing the United States a substantial amount in health care and missed days at work.

    The costs of obesity-related absences for firefighters were $1,682.90 per firefighter in class II and III obesity, $254.00 per firefighter in class I obesity, and $74.41 per overweight firefighter (2). So how does someone identify and classify their individual bodyweight category?

    According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), obesity is defined according to body mass index (BMI). An individual’s BMI compares height versus weight and is used to screen for categories that may lead to health problems. In technical terms, BMI is calculated by weight (kg) / height (m2). Class I obesity is defined as a BMI value between 30 and 34.9; class II obesity is defined as a BMI value between 35 and 39.9; and class III obesity is defined as a BMI value ≥40 (1).

    BMI                 Category

    Below 18.5         Underweight

    18.5 – 24.9         Normal

    25.0 – 29.9         Overweight

    30.0 – 34.9         Class I Obesity

    35 – 39.9         Class II Obesity

    Above 40         Class III Obesity

    There has been some controversy about using BMI for athletes, since a large amount of muscle can place an extremely lean, in-shape person in an overweight or obese category. So it is possible that athletic, lean firefighters with a high percentage of muscle can be falsely identified as overweight or obese. However, in previous studies false identification of obesity by BMI was low compared to identification by waist circumference (9.8%) and body fat percentage (2.9%) (1). 

    Considering the recent statistics on the incidence of overweight and obesity in firefighters, an increase in the amount of activity per week may be helpful for overall wellness as well as career longevity. The American College of Sports Medicine and the American Heart Association both recommend 30 minutes of activity five days per week for a normal, healthy person (3). 

    A firefighter in an environmentally demanding environment should have a leaner body composition to withstand the stressors of their job.

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    REFERENCES →

    1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. QuickStats: Prevalence of obesity (Class I, II, and III) among adults aged ≥20 years, by age group and sex - National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, United States, 2007-2008, 2010 / 59(17);527.
    2. Haddock, CK, Poston, W, Jahnke, SA, et al. Addressing the epidemic of obesity in the United States Fire Service. Greenbelt, MD: National Volunteer Fire Council; 1-54, 2011.
    3. Haskell, WL, Lee, I, Pate, RR, Powell, KE, Blair, SN, Franklin, BA, Macera, CA, Heath, GW, Thompson, PD, Bauman, A. Physical activity and public health: Updated recommendation for adults from the American College of Sports Medicine and the American Heart Association. 28; 116(9): 1081–1093, 2007.

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