Overweight and obesity in UK firefighters

Background: Obesity among firefighters can present a hindrance to operational effectiveness. In North American studies 80% of US firefighters are overweight or obese. No studies have explored obesity among firefighters in the UK and it is unclear whether obesity is a problem among UK firefighters. Aims: To establish the prevalence of obesity among a large sample of firefighters in the UK and to explore changes in body mass index (BMI) over a three year period. Methods: The BMI and body composition of 735 male firefighters from a UK county Fire and rescue service was assessed in 2008 and 2011. Results: In 2008, 65% of the firefighters were either overweight (54%) or obese (11%). In 2011, slightly fewer firefighters were overweight (53%) however the proportion classified as obese increased significantly to 13%.Those classified as normal-weight in 2008 were more likely to have gained weight by 2011 in comparison to those categorised as obese at baseline. A lower proportion of firefigthers were classified as high-risk for obesity based on their waist circumference in 2008. Conclusion: The proportion of firefighters who are either overweight or obese is lower in this UK sample than found in US studies. Nevertheless, the proportion of UK firefighters classed as overweight was higher than that found in the general population samples from England. Given the negative implications of obesity for performance, there is a need for further investment in theory-based sector-specific health promotion research and practice.