Obesity: a double threat for police & firefighters in their 50’s

Obesity is a lot more serious than just carrying extra ‘holiday weight.’ It’s the precursor to many chronic conditions including high blood pressure, heart issues, stroke, diabetes, cancer, and arthritis. While it’s not isolated just to people in their 50’s, this is the age bracket with the highest rate of obesity, at an alarming 41%.[1]

But, it’s not just about our age or food choices. There are particular professions that suffer from this disease. One study puts law enforcement at the top of this list, with 40.7% of all police, firefighters and security guards, clinically obese.[2]

And yes, obesity is a disease. One that affects people emotionally, as much as physically. So, why are emergency responders struggling with their weight? For a multitude of reasons.

Changing shifts, missing home-cooked meals & emotional triggers

Emergency staff follow an ever-changing work schedule, with little consistency. This includes stints of long, night shifts and missing home-cooked dinners. Shift workers return home, in the early morning and more often, choose sleep over preparing a nutritious breakfast or lunch.

Sleep deprived, first responders reach for quick foods. Inner dialogue tells them “there’s no point cooking for one” and those bad food choices continue, pre-shift.

With a dangerous cocktail of exhaustion, sleep deprivation and poor nutrition, emergency staff don’t ‘fill up their cups’ or have the energy to plan ahead. In fact, regular poor sleep puts you at risk of serious medical conditions (yes, including obesity).

Inadequate sleep leads to weight gain and shortens life expectancy. In a sleep-deprived state, leptin, a chemical that makes you feel full, decreases while ‘the hunger-stimulating hormone’, ghrelin, increases.[3]

Emergency staff should aim for at least seven hours sleep a day, to keep you trim, mentally alert, and emotionally strong.

The mind+body connection

Spirituality aside, we can’t deny the link between the mind and body. Mental health strategies are important for emergency staff, who are exposed to trauma, tragedy, and trying situations, every day.

The weight might have little to do with a person’s biology or habits but, rather, can be a psychological issue. It’s best to follow healthy practices, for the mind and body, and avoid unhealthy coping tools – alcohol, drugs, smoking, binge eating, and distractions.

A note for ladies

Our metabolism naturally slows down as we age. Changes to your body shape and energy levels might occur, especially for women in their 50’s, after menopause. During this decade, women coin it “the weight gain cycle” and it’s often difficult to break. Keep an eye on your waist measurement-to-hip measurement ratio, consult a dietitian, and implement an exercise program.

Emergency Services Health supports emergency workers, at every stage of their careers.

For your physique and energy levels, keep things simple with three rules: nutritious meals, regular exercise, and 7-8 hours of sleep.

Then, create some mental and emotional health practices that feel right for you. It could be journaling, meditating, yoga, running, weekly date nights or seeing a counsellor. There is no right way for everyone. But no wrong way for anyone.

As an emergency services worker, protecting all facets of your health is a life and death matter.

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We understand the demands of front line work more than any other insurer. After all, we've been looking after the health and wellbeing of the police community for more than 85 years. Whether you’re already a member, or interested in becoming one, call us to find out how to get the most out of our cover and benefits. We’re here to help.  

Please note: some articles on this website are compiled from material obtained externally. Although we make every effort to ensure information is correct at the time of publication, we accept no responsibility for its accuracy. Health-related articles are intended for general information only and should not be interpreted as medical advice. Please consult your doctor. The views expressed in articles are not necessarily those of Police Health Ltd.