Half of the UK Fire Service is overweight and 13 per cent are obese, according to new research at Loughborough University. After noticing a rise in obesity in the US Fire Service, researchers investigated if the same thing was occurring in the UK.
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Far from being a hen party’s dream, in real life a higher percentage of firefighters are overweight or obese than their unheroic counterparts in the general public. This is despite regulations that call for firefighters to be physically fit to cope with potentially dangerous situations while carrying out their duties.
The study measured the body mass index of 735 male firefighters first in 2008 and then again in 2011.They compared these measurements to the average levels of being overweight or obese in the general public.
Current figures have 42 per cent of men and 32 per cent of women in the UK classed as overweight. But in the fire service, 53 per cent are overweight.
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The report, published in the journal Occupational Medicine, considered the rising levels of obesity a worry for the smooth operating of the Fire Department.
"Obesity among firefighters can present a hindrance to operational effectiveness,” it says.
"The proportion of firefighters who are either overweight or obese is lower in this UK sample than that found in US studies. But it was higher than that found in the general population.
"Given the negative implications of obesity for performance, there is a need for further investment in health promotion research and practice."
According to a spokesman for the Fire Brigades Union, there has been a difficulty in getting young recruits to the fire service in recent years, so the average age of firefighters has increased, which may be a factor.
The spokesman added that BMI was not always an accurate measure of health: "BMI does not always accurately reflect someone’s cardiovascular fitness, agility or strength. It’s quite a crude measurement.
"But all 56 fire services in the UK now have fitness policies in place to monitor the health of firefighters. Indeed, there have been cases where people have been dismissed on the basis of their weight," he added.