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Most New EMS Recruits Overweight or Obese

Massachusetts finding has troubling implications for public safety, experts say

FRIDAY, March 20 (HealthDay News) -- More than 75 percent of candidates for fire and ambulance services in Massachusetts are either overweight or obese, a situation that has major consequences for public health and safety, researchers say.

"First, cardiovascular disease and musculoskeletal injury are important causes of [disability and death] in emergency responders, and excess body fat is associated with higher risk for both. Second, because of the nature of emergency response work, any health condition suddenly incapacitating an emergency responder also potentially compromises the safety of his or her co-workers and the community," lead author Antonios Tsismenakis, a second-year medical student at Boston University School of Medicine, said in a news release.

A team from BUSM, Boston Medical Center, Harvard University and the Cambridge Health Alliance reviewed the pre-placement medical examinations of 370 firefighter and ambulance recruits assessed at two Massachusetts clinics between October 2004 and June 2007.

They found that 43.8 percent of the recruits were overweight, 33 percent were obese, and only 22 percent were normal weight.

Excess weight as measured by body-mass index (BMI) was associated with higher blood pressures, worse metabolic profiles and lower exercise tolerance on treadmill stress tests, the researchers said.

While all normal-weight recruits achieved the National Fire Protection Agency's recommended minimum exercise threshold of 12 metabolic equivalents, 42 percent of obese and 7 percent of overweight recruits failed to meet the criteria.

The study appears online March 19 in the journal Obesity.

"These findings are strong evidence against the common misconception in the emergency responder community that many of their members have BMIs in the overweight and obese ranges simply on the basis of increased muscle mass. Even in these young recruits, we documented a very strong association between excess BMI and an increased cardiovascular risk profile," study senior author Dr. Stefanos Kales, director of Occupational and Environmental Medicine Residency, Harvard School of Public Health, said in the news release.

More information

There's more on fighting overweight and obesity at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: Boston Medical Center, news release, March 19, 2009

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