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The Prevalence of Overweight, Obesity, and Substandard Fitness in a Population-Based Firefighter Cohort

Poston, Walker S. C. PhD, MPH; Haddock, C. Keith PhD; Jahnke, Sara A. PhD; Jitnarin, Nattinee PhD; Tuley, Brianne C. BA; Kales, Stefanos N. MD, MPH

Journal of Occupational & Environmental Medicine: March 2011 - Volume 53 - Issue 3 - p 266–273
doi: 10.1097/JOM.0b013e31820af362
Original Articles

Objective: To examine the prevalence of overweight and obesity in firefighters.

Methods: Body mass index (BMI), waist circumference, and body fat percentage (BF%) were assessed in 478 career and 199 volunteer male firefighters from randomly selected departments.

Results: High prevalence rates of overweight + obesity (BMI ≥ 25 kg/m2) and obesity (BMI ≥ 30 kg/m2) were found in career (79.5%; 33.5%) and volunteer firefighters (78.4%; 43.2%). False-positive obesity misclassification based on BMI, compared to waist circumference and BF%, was low (9.8% and 2.9%, respectively). False negatives were much higher: 32.9% and 13.0%. Obese firefighters demonstrated unfavorable cardiovascular disease (CVD) profiles.

Conclusions: The prevalence of overweight and obesity exceeded that of the US general population. Contrary to common wisdom, obesity was even more prevalent when assessed by BF% than by BMI, and misclassifying muscular firefighters as obese by using BMI occurred infrequently.

From the Institute for Biobehavioral Health Research (Drs Poston, Haddock, Jahnke, and Jitnarin and Mr Tuley), National Development and Research Institute, Inc, Leawood, Kan; National Development and Research Institute, Inc (Dr Jitnarin), New York, NY; and Harvard School of Public Health (Dr Kales), Occupational Health Program, Boston, Mass.

©2011The American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine