There is a growing epidemic of obesity in the United States, and the fire and emergency services are not immune. In fact, studies have shown that rates of overweight and obese individuals in the fire service are higher than those found in the general public. Between 73 to 88 percent of firefighters are overweight or obese.

Overweight and obese individuals are at increased risk for heart disease, metabolic syndrome, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, cancer, and sleep disorders. Firefighters who are overweight and obese are also less fit to perform their jobs and suffer a larger number of problems than their colleagues, such as low fitness, reduced muscular strength, and more frequent cardiac events.

There are many reasons why rates of obesity are high in the fire service. Firefighters often have long periods of sedentary time between calls, eat on the go, and find little spare time to head to the gym. In addition, the nutrition environment in the firehouse may reinforce unhealthy eating habits. Firefighters may also overestimate the ability of job-related physical activity to counteract large food portions, unhealthy dietary choices, and lack of additional exercise.

However, there are many things you can do to incorporate health and fitness into your lifestyle. Making healthier food choices doesn’t have to be difficult or expensive. If eating on the go, choose a healthier restaurant or menu option. Trade snacks that are high in sugar, fat, and sodium for smarter options like nuts, fruit, yogurt, whole grain cereals, or popcorn. Select lean meats and bake, broil, or grill it instead of frying. Limit your intake of added sugars, especially sugar-sweetened beverages such as soda, sports drinks, and some fruit drinks. Add more whole grains and vegetables to your diet. Find more guidance for making healthy eating choices in the Nutrition section of this web site.

Fit in exercise when you can. It is not enough to assume you are getting exercise simply because you are a firefighter. You need to make the effort to ensure your body is ready for the call. There are many exercises that can be done while at the station and using only items that can readily be found in a firehouse. Some examples are available here. Fitness should also be incorporated into a department’s regular training activities. For instance, the East Whiteland Fire Department in Malvern, PA, incorporates fitness training into their real-world fire and EMS training sessions. Make it a group effort and challenge the entire department to focus on getting and staying healthy. This way the firefighters can be there to support and encourage each other in their efforts.  Find more resources for an active lifestyle in the Fitness section of this web site.

Know Your Health Tips – Managing Weight

  1. Talk to your physician to find out what a healthy weight and Body Mass Index (BMI) is for you.
  2. Read the food labels, checking for both total content of fat, cholesterol, sodium, and other potentially unhealthy components, as well as the ingredient list to see where these come from.
  3. Limit alcohol consumption based on physician recommended amounts as determined by your individual health, gender, and weight.
  4. Try eating five small meals a day rather than three big ones, which helps control hunger levels to avoid overeating.
  5. Eat more fish, which is low in fat and high in cholesterol-combatting omega-3 fatty acids.
  6. Choose leaner meats and poultry over the higher fat options, and remove the skins.
  7. Bake, grill, or broil food instead of frying it.
  8. Have multiple servings of vitamin- and fiber-full vegetables and fruits each day.
  9. Choose healthy whole grain products to provide fiber and keep you feeling full longer.
  10. Participate in a minimum of 30-60 minutes of moderately intense activity 5 times per week.

Sources: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; U.S. Department of Agriculture

Resources and Tools for Weight 

Addressing the Epidemic of Obesity in the United States Fire Service
National Volunteer Fire Council

Heart-Healthy Firefighter Program: Fitness
National Volunteer Fire Council

Heart-Healthy Firefighter Program: Nutrition
National Volunteer Fire Council

Fitness Demonstrations and Nutrition Videos
National Volunteer Fire Council

Body Mass Index (BMI) Calculator
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Classification of Overweight and Obesity by BMI, Waist Circumference, and Association Disease Risks
National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute

The First Twenty

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