Date of Award

1-1-2009

Document Type

Campus Access Dissertation

Department

Health Promotion, Education and Behavior

First Advisor

Robert F. Valois

Abstract

Fitness is essential to firefighters in performing their jobs. Accurate perception of fitness is essential for making behavioral changes necessary to improve fitness. Little research is available comparing actual and perceived fitness in a firefighter population.

This study establishes the first baseline level of fitness among firefighters in Washington DC, using tests prescribed by the American College of Sports Medicine and the CDC definition of fitness as having five components: Body Composition, Cardiovascular Endurance, Muscular Strength, Muscular Endurance and Flexibility. This is also the first study in any population to compare actual and perceived fitness using the CDC definition. Perceived fitness was measured by survey.

Actual and perceived fitness were measured in a sample of 487 male firefighters. Performance test results for actual fitness were categorized as fit if results were above average according to ACSM norms. BMI results were categorized as fit if not in the overweight range. Perceived fitness results were categorized as fit if the firefighter reported above average fitness. Perceived weight responses were categorized as fit if not in the overweight range.

Results indicate that only 3% of firefighters are fit according to the CDC definition. The fitness component with the highest percentage of not fit firefighters was Body Composition, as measured by BMI. 85% of firefighters were overweight, 44% of these moderately or severely obese. The perceived fitness component with the highest percentage of not fit firefighters, at 66%, was Flexibility. Logistic regression revealed that age has a significant impact on categorization as fit for several fitness components. Pairing the test results and survey responses revealed that Body Composition and Cardiovascular Endurance were the two components with the highest percentage of firefighters who perceived they were fit when ACSM norms categorized them as not fit.

Comparisons between tested and perceived fitness are applied to recommendations for fitness promotion which are evidence-based and consistent with accepted models of health behavior change. The extremely low level of fitness requires abandonment of fitness screening for rehabilitation in favor of continuous fitness promotion.

This dissertation is out of the Department of Health Promotion, Education and Behavior of the Arnold School of Public Health under the guidance of Professor Robert Valois, MS, PhD, MPH.

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