Obesity and Emergency Responders

This post is not about the problems facing emergency responders because of the increase in severely obese clients. Nor is this post about the increasing need for “supersized” ambulances and rescue equipment. It is also not about teaching emergency responders sensitivity skills in their dealings with people with excess weight.

No, this post is about obesity in emergency responders themselves.

In a paper published in last month’s issue of OBESITY, Antonios Tsismenakis and colleagues from the Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, MA, USA, studied the prevalence and health associations of excess weight among 370 consecutive emergency responder candidates for fire and ambulance services in Massachusetts.

The average BMI of the young candidates (mean age 26.3 yrs) was 28.5, i.e. just below the BMI cutoff for obesity. In fact, 77% were in the overweight category and 33% had obesity (i.e. not very different from the US general population).

Not surprisingly higher BMI was associated with higher blood pressures, worse metabolic profiles, and lower exercise tolerance.

These findings are of particular concern as emergency responders are routinely required to perform demanding duties that require optimal cardiovascular fitness. A similar problem is faced by other services like the police, armed forces and other professions that have to rely on a constant supply of healthy and fit young adults.

Of course, as readers of these pages know, there is a wide range of weights across which people can be quite fit and healthy. Nevertheless, excess weight in prospective emergency responders is certainly not something to be taken lightly and how to deal with this issue without overtly discriminating against recruits simply based on BMI (just a number on your scale) may prove challenging.

Edmonton, Alberta