Obesity a big problem for U.S. firefighters


Firefighters face many health risks every day on the job -- including one that may come as a surprise. Despite the physical demands of the profession, a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says more than 70 percent of U.S. firefighters are overweight or obese.

Moreover, a majority of firefighters who are overweight or obese say they haven't received any advice on weight loss from their health care provider in the last year.

Cardiac arrest, linked to obesity, is the leading cause of deaths for firemen in the line of duty. A number of studies have also pointed to increased cancer risk among people in the profession.

"Firefighters struggle with their weight similarly to all Americans," Dr. Sue Day, an associate professor of epidemiology at the Michael and Susan Dell Center for Healthy Living at University of Texas School of Public Health and a coauthor of the paper, told CBS News in an email. "However, since firefighters' jobs require a greater level of fitness and stamina than typical jobs, due to the strenuous nature of the work, it is a more serious issue."

For the study, Day and her team examined self-reported data on a sample of 1,002 male firefighters from the Fuel 2 Fight cohort study, which was conducted in 2011 to 2012. Researchers also assessed body mass index and height of firefighters for the study. Results were published today in CDC's online journal Preventing Chronic Disease.

The researchers found that while 96 percent of the firefighters said they'd seen a health care professional in the last year, only 69 percent of all firefighters and 48 percent of obese firefighters say they were counseled on issues concerning diet, exercise and weight-related health risks. Almost half reported at least one obesity-related health problem, such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

Additionally, the researchers say health care providers were less likely to offer information on healthy weight to young firefighters than they were to older men in the profession.

However, the researchers stress that there may be some limitations to their analysis. The study is based on self-reported data, which may mean some firefighters could not recall a conversation with their health care provider regarding weight loss.

Some fire departments in the country have implemented a wellness initiatives. In those instances, firefighters were more likely to report they'd been counseled about their weight. This suggests that on-the-job interventions may be an effective way to help people in this demanding profession stay healthy and fit.

"Some firefighters may think being larger makes them stronger, but it is their level of fitness that is important, not overall body size," said Day. "Prevention efforts should target the younger firefighters with lower BMIs because they are at greater risk for additional weight gain than older firefighters."