Firefighting Obesity - A New Study!

       Firefighting a heroic profession no doubt! What you probably didn’t know is that the prevalence of obesity among firefighters is higher than almost any other profession. Yes, it’s surprising, and certainly counterintuitive. But it’s true. According to one study, this stems from fire station eating culture, sedentary work while not fighting fires, among other factors (Dobson et al. 2013). However, the reasons for firefighter obesity won’t be our focus here. Let’s turn to another study, and see what takeaways we might apply in our own lives.
       In a recent cross-sectional study by my friend and colleague Dr. Maria Korre at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, 400 male U.S. firefighters were randomly assessed to identify significant predictors of left ventricular (LV) mass (Korre et al. 2016). Why LV mass? The left ventricle is an important part of your heart’s pumping system, and its mass turns out to be a strong predictor of cardiovascular disease events such as sudden cardiac death and heart attack. It also turns out that high LV mass is common among U.S. firefighters.

       So what were the strongest risk factors associated with high LV mass in the recent Harvard study? Or put another way, which attributes  most greatly increased a firefighter’s chance of having high LV mass? Given we’re dealing with firefighters, you might suspect something wild and unique. This was not the case. It turns out the most consistent and significant predictor of high LV mass was body mass index (BMI). Yet again, BMI sounding the health alarm! Though not everyone is a male firefighter, I think such findings should flag our attention.
       The importance of BMI to health and longevity has been stressed in my previous blog. Dr. Korre’s study, like many others, reinforces this. For those unfamiliar, BMI is essentially a height-adjusted weight metric that will tell you whether you are overweight. It would do us all good to know our own BMI. You can quickly and easily calculate it using this Standard BMI Calculator. To know what constitutes a healthy BMI, simply read my previous blog. For a full interview with Dr. Korre about her recent study, click here. On that note, thank you Dr. Korre for your excellent work at Harvard and for investigating the importance of BMI. Cheers to good health!

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                                                            Shahir Masri
                                                            Doctor of Science
                                                            Environmental Health Science


  • Dobson, M., B. Choi, P.L. Schnall, E. Wigger, J. Garcia-Rivas, L. Israel, and D.B. Baker. 2013. Exploring occupational and health behavioral causes of firefighter obesity: a qualitative study. Am J Ind Med. 56(7):776-790.
  • Maria Korre, L.G.G. Porto, A. Farioli, J. Yang, D. C. Christiani, C.A. Christophi, D.A. Lombardi, R. J. Kovacs, R. Mastouri, S. Abbasi, M. Steigner, S. Moffatt, D. Smith, S. N. Kales. 2016. Effect of Body Mass Index on Left Ventricular Mass in Career Male Firefighters. The Journal of Cardiology. Accepted Manuscript.

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