Firefighters are among occupations with the highest rate of work injury absence. Yearly more than 8–11% of firefighters are injured at work which contributes to 144 paid sick days per 100 firefighters. Recent studies have shown an important correlation between work absence and obesity among firefighters. Higher body mass index (BMI) is associated with higher rate of work injury absence. In the USA the costs associated with work-related injuries and illnesses among obese class II and III (BMI ≥ 35) firefighters were estimated at $1,682.90 yearly, among obese class I (BMI 30.0 – 34.9) firefighters at $254.00 yearly and among overweight (BMI 25.0 – 29.9) firefighters at $74.41.
The aim of our study was therefore to evaluate the prevalence of obesity among voluntary firefighters in Slovenia, to find its correlation to other chronic diseases in this specific population, and according to results, to prepare specific practical programs to improve it.
100 voluntary firefighters from 5 fire departments in Slovenia were included in the study. Their mean age was 35 (min 17, max 63). 85% were men. 50 of them belong to basic group and 50 to group which uses self-contained breathing apparatus. The data for the study were obtained from results of mandatory regular preventive medical check-ups conducted by two specialists in occupational and sports medicine.
For presentation of sample group and prevalence of obesity and other chronic diseases descriptive methods were used. Pearson chi-squared test was used to evaluate the differences between obese/non-obese group and basic/demanding group. α < 0,05 was considered as statistically significant. All information is anonymous and all participants in the study agreed that their personal information is used for the purposes of the study.
50% of firefighters were non-smokers, 38,1 % smokers and 11,9 % ex-smokers. 55,2 % of firefighters were physically active enough according to EFSMA recommendations. 37% had normal weight, 42% were overweight and 21% were obese (Figure 1). The prevalence of chronic diseases in our study group was as follows: musculoskeletal disorders 24%, hypertension 10%, lung disease 4%, heart disease 2%, diabetes mellitus 1%, and mental disorders 1%, no cancer in our study group. Firefighters belonging to the basic group were more obese (p = 0,005) than firefighters from the group with self-contained breathing apparatus. Obese firefighters in both groups have significantly more chronic diseases (p = 0,000) especially due to higher incidence of hypertension (p = 0,002) and heart diseases (p = 0,022).
To improve health status of voluntary firefighters, the implementation of specific preventive and therapeutic strategies, focused especially on lowering the incidence and prevalence of obesity, hypertension, heart diseases and musculoskeletal disorders is necessary. Fire departments in Slovenia are very appropriate way to reach groups of people to implement preventive strategies because their members gather regularly on weekly basis. So our next step is to introduce European Federation of Sports Medicine Associations (EFSMA) Exercise Prescription for Health (EPH®) in all five fire departments.
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