Is There Really Such a Thing as the ‘EMS Curse’?

Ever since Dominique-Jean Larrey of France invented the first ambulance wagon in 1792, EMS has played a significant role in the field of emergency medicine. Prehospital providers have paved the way for better technology, equipment and even changed the way medicine is practiced in the emergency room. Most importantly, they are responsible for the future of EMS by continuing to develop new and innovative ways for treatment of the sick or injured in a time of crisis. Unfortunately, many of the people who work in the EMS field won’t be around to see it.

Every year, thousands of Americans die as direct result of obesity. In 2005, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated 112,000 deaths were a direct result of obesity in the United States. Graham A. Colditz, a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and professor of epidemiology at Harvard School of Public Health, stated that 7% of all health care expenditures in the U.S. are due to obesity.

These numbers are hard to ignore, especially because few occupations have shown to be more affected by obesity than EMS is. Put aside the risk factors associated with coinciding medical issues, and you’ll see that the obstacles one faces as an obese EMT or medic can be just as challenging as if they he or she had a serious, debilitating handicap.

Some in EMS refer to this as the “EMS curse,” contributed to in part by years of fast food and lack of exercise. Working the streets in EMS is hardly an ideal setting for maintaining a healthy lifestyle, and let’s face it, most of the time everything seems to be working against you. Before you know it, you’re caught in what seems like an endless rut, and your metabolism is a thing of the past. But this doesn’t mean that your health has to suffer as a result.

The National Heart Lung and Blood Institute states modest weight loss can have significant effects on your overall health by lowering blood pressure, decreasing blood glucose and insulin levels, as well as lowering bad cholesterol (LDL) and triglycerides. It also states that moderate wight loss decreases the risk of developing diabetes and sleep apnea.

The fact is most people are either not ready or don’t have any desire to change their regular unhealthy habits, especially when it comes to food. No thanks to the recent influx of widely popular fast food value menus, more people are given yet another excuse to fill up on fatty foods without making a dent in their wallet. Most fast food chains have dedicated menus tailored to the health conscious. This is a good step in the right direction, but the next step is in your court. Sometimes when you’re staring down the barrel of a menu loaded with greasy burgers and fries, it’s just too hard to resist the temptation. This mentality can be to your demise, unless you learn how to practice a bit of self-control and compromise here and there.

Of course it’s good to tell everyone about the ease of packing a lunch to carry along to work everyday, but the benefits of doing so stretch far beyond convenience. Eating out everyday costs money, and trust me, even the dollar menus add up. There are also health benefits too. By keeping food readily available in your home refrigerator that can be prepared and packed quickly into your lunch cooler, you create the opportunity to practice portion control. Whereas most individuals are more likely to eat the entire “value meal,” your metabolism will eventually prefer smaller but more frequent meals for burning fat and maintaining energy. It also gives you the chance to grocery shop for your own meals and to choose how you want to eat, thus reducing unhealthy temptations.

Keep your lunch cooler in the truck. Between emergency tones, have a sandwich, a nutrition bar or shake. Pack a small bag of carrots, and be sure to keep bottled water handy at all times. If you make it back to base and have a microwave, heat up some soup or bring a frozen dinner. You will find yourself not only satisfied at the end of the day, but in time you may get to tighten a notch on your utility belt as well.

The problem is that no matter how much sense this concept makes, there will always be those in the workplace maybe even you who will forget to pack a lunch, having to ask the inevitable question, “What’s close by that’s cheap and open?”

For anyone who has ever fallen in this category, never fear! Ordering smart can be accomplished by the simple practice of moderation. Below is a guide that may help you decide on ways to eat-out smarter, based on seven popular fast food chains. It is based on not only what is sensible but what is realistic. If you insist on eating out, these suggestions can show you how you can do it without overdoing it.

Reviewed by: Dr. Bradley Barth Medical director and ER Physician for St. Joseph’s hospital, St. Paul, MN.

Harvard School of Public Health Weighing the Evidence” web cast 26.085
Harvard School of Public Health Weighing the Evidence” web cast Graham A. Colditz slide 56
Web MD; Daniel DeNoon article, Drink More Diet Soda, Gain More Weight?”
Sharon P. Fowler, MPH, University of Texas Health Science Center School of Medicine, San Antonio.
Nutrition Examination Survey NHANES Flegal KM, et al. JAMA 2002; 288:1723-27

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