Despite America’s widely-acknowledged problem with obesity, some professions seem sheltered from this troubling trend. Professional athletes, for example. Or, if we’re to believe what we see in films and on the pages of sexy calendars (which we don’t, usually), firefighters. But unfortunately, even the men of the station house aren’t safe from this country’s excessive weight gain. According to a new study, firefighters aren’t just a little out of shape–they’re more likely to be overweight than the average American, and it’s taking a toll on their health.
Between the pervasive fetishization of the strong, ripped man who busts into burning buildings, to actual fit firefighters, like Rip Esselstyn, the dreamboat behind the plant-based Engine 2 Diet (which was featured in last year’s biggest food film,Forks Over Knives), the idea that the men and women who work as firefighters are all health-conscious beacons of fitness is drummed into the collective psyche. And yet, it’s just not true.
It turns out that, for the most part, firefighters aren’t subjected to quite as much rigorous physical fitness as popular culture would like you to think. The study, entitled “Addressing the Epidemic of Obesity in the United States Fire Service,” notes that despite persistant stereotypes about firefighters, this population is just as impacted by obesity as the rest of America–and possibly more.
As many as 88% of firefighters in the United States are considered to be overweight or obese. Heart disease, diabetes, and other weight-related ailments continue to plague firefighters, making it more difficult for them to perform their necessary tasks. And yet, because the general public assumes that these first responders are immune to the problems of weight gain, so, too, do many of the firefighters themselves.
According to the study, the environment in a fire station doesn’t encourage healthy eating–in fact, it’s just the opposite. Attempts to incorporate more smart food decisions (and fewer processed carbs and sugary snacks) are “often met with resistance,” the researchers write.
Additionally, many firefighters buy into what the rest of America thinks about them–that their job is highly physical. Which, while it is more active than, say, working in front of a computer (guilty), the researchers noted than many firefighters grossly overestimate the amount of exercise they get from the job–which means that they eat to overcompensate. Just like the rest of the country.
Which is what really seems the most important with this study–that, while it’s a little disconcerting to think that some (but not all, because overweight does not always equal unhealthy) first responders may not be in shape enough to perform life-saving duties, it’s more worrisome because it is representative of what is happening in every line of duty all across the country. All of America is in a similar boat–but when it impacts the health and wellness of a population thought to be immune, it’s truly worrisome.
Image: This Is FYF