Study: Boston-Area Recruits Overweight

Three out of four paramedic, EMT and firefighter recruits in the Boston area are overweight, according to a Boston University study.


BOSTON, Mass. -- Three out of four paramedic, EMT and firefighter recruits in the Boston area are overweight, a troubling trend that shows the obesity epidemic is weighing down even young rookies, according to a new study out today.

Researchers reviewed pre-placement medical exams for 370 Boston-area firefighter and ambulance recruits over three years. They found that only 22 percent, or about 1 in 5 recruits, had a normal weight, according to the Boston University study.

Nearly 44 percent were overweight and 33 percent were obese, according to the study published today in the journal Obesity. Investigators defined normal weight, overweight and obese based on BMI, which is a commonly accepted weight-to-height-ratio.

"They are pretty striking numbers," said lead author Antonios Tsismenakis, a second-year medical student at Boston University School of Medicine and a fellow at the Harvard School of Public Health. "We were ourselves pretty surprised at the severity of the penetration of the obesity epidemic."

He said the study debunks a myth that first-responders have higher BMI measurements because they have greater muscle mass. He said the study found that recruits with high BMIs also had high cholesterol levels, higher blood pressure and alower exercise tolerance.

He hopes the study serves as a red flag for fire and ambulance chiefs. Being overweight is one of many risk factors for first responders, he said.

"They already have the stacks placed against them as far as heart attacks and muscular skeletal injuries," he said.

Study authors recommend setting aside work-out time in the day for firefighters, counseling on nutrition and exercise and health surveillance monitoring.

Tsismenakis would not identify the cities and towns whose recruits were included in the study. The firefighter recruits were from three Boston-area fire departments, and the EMS recruits came from two private ambulances companies and one city EMS department.

The average age of recruits whose records were reviewed for the study was 26 years old. Tsismenakis said it appears that today's recruits are significantly heavier than older veteran firefighters from the 1980s and 1990s.

Researchers reviewed the pre-placement medical examinations of firefighter and ambulance recruits from two Massachusetts clinics between October 2004 and June 2007. Candidates who failed the medical test were excluded because those recruits would be disqualified from service. Those older than age 35 were also excluded.

The study was conducted by BU's School of Medicine, Boston Medical Center and the Cambridge Health Alliance. Recruits received medical exams at two clinics associated with the Cambridge Health Alliance and BMC.

Republished with permission of The Boston Herald.