Boston researchers are sounding the alarm about the fitness of firefighter and ambulance crew recruits in Massachusetts.
New research shows that 77 percent of candidates for firefighting and emergency medical technician positions were overweight or obese. The study, published online today in the journal Obesity, was conducted by researchers from Boston University School of Medicine, Harvard University and the Cambridge Health Alliance.
"If they are beginning their careers overweight and obese unless there is an intervention, it would be worse over time," said Dr. Stefanos Kales, director of the occupational & environmental medicine residency at the Harvard School of Public Health and senior author of the study.
The researchers reviewed the pre-placement medical examinations of firefighter and ambulance recruits from two clinic testing centers between October 2004 and June 2007. They excluded those who were older than 35 and those who had already failed to meet their department's minimum criteria for recruits, to focus on young candidates who were most likely to be hired and become emergency responders.
Among the 370 recruits studied, only 22 percent were normal weight; roughly 44 percent were overweight, and 33 percent were obese.
All of the normal weight recruits passed the minimum exercise test recommended by the National Fire Protection Association, while 7 percent of the overweight and 42 percent of the obese candidates failed to meet that minimum, the researchers reported.
The researchers said the inability of overweight recruits to meet physical challenges could put the public at risk.
"Sudden incapacitation of a responder, such as a heart attack or stroke, has obvious implications on public safety," Kales said.
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