87% of Toronto Police workers have bad nutrition habits, 65% overweight

(courtesy of appropriate author) TORONTO (CP) - Jokes about cops and doughnuts might be the reflex reaction to a new survey that shows nearly two-thirds of Toronto Police Service workers are overweight, but the general public isn't doing much better when it comes to battling the bulge, experts say.

A health survey of 2,110 police officers and civilian employees conducted by Connex Health found almost 90 per cent admitted to poor nutrition habits, while 65 per cent said they were overweight.

A further 44 per cent reported an unhealthy fitness level, while around 20 per cent said they had been diagnosed as obese.

The results come as no surprise to Connex president Denise Balch, who suspected the "fairly poor" numbers would be similar in police forces across the country.

"The majority of members are not meeting Canada's Food Guide in terms of nutrition, and we know that not many of them want to change," said Balch.

Still, only nine per cent of respondents reported an unhealthy waist circumference, just 10 per cent said their alcohol intake was unhealthy and 11 per cent said they had bad smoking habits.

The results are considered accurate within 2.5 percentage points, 9.5 times out of 10.

Nutrition experts weren't surprised by the results either, saying behind-the-scenes police employees and front-line officers are generally no different than the average person when it comes to lifestyle.

"You would expect the police constables in particular to be more attuned to their lifestyle habits," said Dr. David Lau, president of Obesity Canada.

"In reality, the police force is a reflection of what we're doing as fairly typical Canadians, who are not engaged in healthy eating practices and healthy living practices."

For that reason, Lau said Canadians shouldn't snicker at the police results - while they might not be impressive, they are better than the national average.

"We're still dealing with a healthier bunch of folks compared to the average," said Lau.

Statistics Canada reports that the nation's obesity rate has almost doubled in the last 20 years, jumping from 13 per cent in 1978 to 23 per cent in 2004.

"I think the statistics just re-enforce the need for us, as health practitioners, to promote the importance of healthy eating and healthy activity," said Lau.

People may have high expectations for police officers because of TV shows and films, but they give an inaccurate depiction of what the average officer does, said defence lawyer Peter Rosenthal.

"Most police work is probably mundane, quiet work and they don't do very much running, so it's not surprising that their (health is) just like other people," said Rosenthal.

"It's not always about running after bad guys."

Last week, Chief Bill Blair told a meeting of the Toronto Police Services Board that the survey was part of an overall strategy to improve health and reduce stress in the force.

"We believe the health of all of our employees is something we have a responsibility for, but we want to also assist them to help them maintain a healthy lifestyle," he said.

"We believe there can be very positive effects, not only for our people on a personal level, but for the workplace and to improve the productivity."

While the survey results highlight some concerns within the force, they confirm that police and the public are not that different, said Bill Gibson, the police service's director of human resources.

"There is an expectation that police officers have a higher fitness standard and a higher health standard," said Gibson.

"But I think we're learning, as we go through these things, that we're not unlike the rest of the members of the community."

© The Canadian Press 2006