The University of Buffalo released information from the 5-year police population based study, Buffalo Cardio-Metabolic Occupational Police Stress (BCOPS) that is being conducted by Dr. John Violanti, Ph.D of their School of Public Health and Health Professions. Dr. Violanti is a retired New York State Trooper and one of the best researchers in Law Enforcement Health.
This study was funded by the National Institutes of Health indicates that the daily psychological stresses that police officers experience in their work put them at significantly higher risk than the general population for many long-term physical and mental health effects.
The research will be released in a special issue of the International Journal of Emergency Mental Health which reveals the connections of daily police work stress, obesity, suicide, sleep disorders and cancer. The study indicates the general health disparities between police officers and the general population.
The study reports that shift work is a contributing factor in an increase in the metabolic syndrome, which includes many symptoms of abnormal obesity, hypertension, insulin resistance, type 2diabetes and stroke.
Researchers studied 464 police officers with 46.9% working non-day shift hours compared to 9% of U.S. workers. Dr. Violanti reports that as a group the night officers have a higher risk of the metabolic syndrome.
The research indicates:
40% of the officers studied were obese compared to 32% of the general population.
25% of the officers were affected by symptoms of the metabolic syndrome compared to 18.7% of the general population
Officers (male and female) experiencing poor sleep quality indicated the highest level of self-reported stress.
Officers have an increased risk of developing Hodgkin’s lymphoma and brain cancer after 30 years of service.
Suicide rates were 8 times higher in active duty-working officers compared to retired officers or those who left the career.
Dr. Violanti stated this finding challenges the common assumption that separated or retired officers are an increased risk of suicide. He suggests that suicide prevention efforts remain important for both active and retired officers.
Dr. Violanti reports that police officers do not address the various physical and mental health issues due to the culture of police work, which hinders the goals of improving officer health.
Many police officers hide their health issues for fear of reduced duty, loss of promotional opportunities and job loss by their leaders if they reported these issues.
Dr. Violanti recommends changes with this mentality starting in the recruit police academy and especially educating the police leadership and management to accept officers who ask for help and help reduce the officer’s fear of requesting assistance for their health issues.
Many of our peers in public safety health and wellness education have discussed these issues and now we have some concrete facts, which are important for our wellbeing and working conditions as a LEO. This report is another study of scientific fact, which will assist police leaders and police union leaders advocate for better working conditions, schedules, salary and other benefits when we negotiate with our local government.
We do not have to wait for the leadership to make the changes or YOU SHOULD NOT WAIT TO TAKE CARE OF YOUR OWN HEALTH AND WELL-BEING.
It is our own responsibility to take care of our physical and mental health needs on a daily basis.
I researched the term: metabolic syndrome in the U.S. National Library of Medicine and the risk factors. The symptoms may include upper and mid body weight gain (the gut), insulin resistance which hinders our blood sugar and fat levels and increased levels of hypertension. Other factors include aging, genetics, hormone changes and a lack of exercise. This syndrome may create excess blood clotting and low level of inflammation throughout the body.
High Blood Pressure and large waist circumference (men over 40 inches) (women over 35 inches) affect our health.
Suggestions to help combat metabolic syndrome:
Maintain a healthy body weight
Eat a healthy fiber rich, whole grain diet with fruits and vegetables
Exercise moderately for 30 minutes every day
Visit your physician for an annual check up
Some individuals may need to take a low dose aspirin
Try to keep a solid sleep schedule and pattern
Take advantage of periodic checks of your blood pressure, heart rates and blood sugar counts
If you don’t feel right: GO TO THE DOCTOR
We deserve the best in working conditions, as we are human beings performing a dangerous and sometimes thankless job. For many of us, this report will be a wakeup call for our own wellbeing. We are not expendable. As a profession, we need to stand up and advocate for better working conditions and benefits. Just take a good look at the progress what the fire services have made within their profession over the years. Better work schedules, equipment, training and working conditions. As a profession, we need to step up and advocate for similar conditions and benefits.
Remember, we are the honorable profession. Stay safe and be well.
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Sgt. Mark St.Hilaire is a police officer working in a Metro-west suburb of Boston, Massachusetts. He is a volunteer police peer of a regional CISM team. Follow him on Linked In or Twitter:@npd3306. Mark can be contacted by confidential email: [email protected]. Sgt. St.Hilaire does not receive any financial benefit from any products or services he mentions in his articles.