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February 20, 2014

Practice professionalism with bariatric patients

Earlier this week, an EMS1 reader reached out to me via email, lamenting about some of the crass comments that were written about obese patients. Indeed, it's pretty interesting how some of our colleagues view obese patients. Fortunately, most of the comments on the thread were in rebuttal to the few crass ones.

Obesity is a major health issue for many in our country. According to the Centers for Disease Control nearly 36 percent of the U.S. population is obese, which is defined as having a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or more, and 6.3 percent are morbidly obese (having a BMI of 40 or more). The health issues associated with being very overweight are significant, and are a factor in the patient population EMS serves.

The reasons for being obese are many. Medical conditions, the inability to conveniently buy healthy foods, a lifestyle that promotes poor eating habits, and not making exercise a priority all contribute to the issue. Making a deliberate choice to be obese is not a factor.


As individuals we are entitled to our opinions – this is a free country, after all. But one should know the facts and better understand the causes of an issue before spouting off something that is simply embarrassing to read.

While we're on this issue, recognize that injury rates to EMS workers are significant. According to the National Institutes of Occupational Safety and Health, over 27,000 EMS provider injuries were reported in 2011. A majority of injuries occur during exertion, and center around the neck and trunk (back). It's crucial that we are in good physical shape, use excellent ergonomics and take advantage of appropriately designed and tested lifting equipment to make our job safer.

The fact is, we perform work that is abrupt in nature, often interspersed with long intervals of sitting around. It's a perfect recipe for an injury to occur.

About the Author

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.