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EMS providers can’t afford to be obese

Being overweight is a threat to our patients, to our health and to our livelihood

In a world where “super size me” is still a mantra and video games keep us on the couch, trying to stay fit is a monumental task. It’s no wonder that, according to the National Institutes of Health, more than a third of Americans are obese and that 1 in 20 are extremely obese.

For EMS providers, being overweight is not only a lifestyle issue, it’s a safety issue. We have one of the more hazardous jobs out there, suffering more sprains, strains and other occupational injuries than police officers or firefighters.

We sit, sometimes for hours at a time, at an on-the-road posting location or in a lounge chair watching videos. Then we are expected to rapidly respond to an emergency incident, lift hundreds of pounds without stretching or warming up and maintain our balance in the back of a moving vehicle while performing detailed tasks.

It’s a recipe for physical disaster.

So it should come as no surprise that some EMS agencies are requiring their employees to be physically fit for the job, not only upon entry, but continuously like a South Carolina county EMS agency’s proposed fit-for-duty testing program. Frankly, it’s a wonder there aren’t more organizations with this requirement. Given the physicality of the job, it’s imperative that providers stay in shape for the sake of their patients and their coworkers.

Do you need more incentive to get fit?

Obesity is linked to hypertension, diabetes, coronary artery disease, certain types of cancer and osteoarthritis. You are more likely to trip, slip or fall if you are obese. Back injuries are more prevalent in people who are obese.

How many of us know of at least one person who is suffering from some physical ailment related to being very overweight? Or, how many have an obese coworker who is out for weeks because an injury?

The next time you are in a large group of EMS colleagues take a quick count of how many are overweight. I’m willing to bet that it’s more than a third of the group.

Art Hsieh, MA, NRP teaches in Northern California at the Public Safety Training Center, Santa Rosa Junior College in the Emergency Care Program. An EMS provider since 1982, Art has served as a line medic, supervisor and chief officer in the private, third service and fire-based EMS. He has directed both primary and EMS continuing education programs. Art is a textbook writer, author of “EMT Exam for Dummies,” has presented at conferences nationwide and continues to provide direct patient care regularly. Art is a member of the EMS1 Editorial Advisory Board. Contact Art at and connect with him on Facebook or Twitter.