Most people know that police officers stand a risk of being killed in the line of duty, but citizens may not realize that those in blue not only risk their life, but their health by serving. Studies and statistics show that police officers suffer consequences related to their working environment.
The latest figures show that officers still die primarily by being shot or otherwise harmed during an incident. However, figures also suggest that a high number die from stress-related ailments, like heart disease and stroke.
The more recent scientific study showed, police enforcement ranks number one for health issues, seconded only by clergy. Not only are those two careers the most stressful, but they are also the fattest, according to a study from the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. The study said that 40.7 percent of the nation’s police officers, firefighters and security guards are overweight.
The most significant study came out of the University of Buffalo, where more than 400 officers participated in interviews and exams, to determine if stress from doing police work contributes to ill health and mental disorders, like post-traumatic stress disorder. The results showed that middle-aged officers, have a higher risk of heart attacks than the average person, and the vast majority had high cholesterol levels, as well as high blood pressure. All the ill effects were blamed on job stress.
Statistics provided by police agencies and organization’s state that officers are more likely to die 15 years sooner than most people. Almost half do not make it past five years in retirement, before dying of heart disease and officers are much more likely to die from a heart attack, rather than from a suspect’s actions.
There are several reasons for the increased heart risk and many of those are linked to weight. Police chiefs admit that their officers eat too much fast food while on patrol. They tend to have a sedentary lifestyle at work and at home. A 10-year study by Cooper Institute for Aerobics Research, which examined the lives of 1,700 officers, concluded that they were well below the average, when it comes to physical activity. That contributes to many of the health problems.
Officers have many other stress-related problems like divorce, suicide and alcoholism that risks police officers’ life and health. Those are directly related to intense stress on the job, according to those working with officers.
Those in the police field said an issue that causes stress is that they are always, in some sense, on the job. Even when they are off duty, people expect them to assist when needed. Added stress comes because an officer does not know what will happen in the next moment. A stopped suspect could be polite, or could be deadly.
Local jurisdictions around the country are attempting to address the problem in hopes of improving their officers’ health and longevity. Many have started requiring intense physical tests before a person wears a badge, and annual exams afterward. Cities and law enforcement chiefs are also promoting wellness by discounting or providing free gym memberships and nutritional classes.
Most know the dangers of police work could end in a loss of life, but now those involved with caring for officers’ health are just beginning to understand the real overall health risk of a law enforcement job. Those employing officers said there must be a stronger commitment to help officers live longer.
By Melody Dareing
Photo by JJ – Flickr license