Warren Franke, Health and Human Performance, (515) 294-8257
Paul Wieck II, Iowa Department of Public Safety, (515) 281- 5261
Loras Jaeger, ISU Department of Public Safety, (515) 294- 6612
Steve Jones, News Service, (515) 294-4778
STATE LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICERS HAVE HIGHER RISK OF HEART DISEASE, ISU STUDY REPORTS
AMES, Iowa -- Iowa's Department of Public Safety officers have more than twice the risk of suffering from heart disease than the general public, according to research from Iowa State University.
Job stress, rotating work shifts and less-than-desirable eating habits of Iowa State Patrol and other state law enforcement officers contributed to their having a higher rate of heart attacks, strokes, hypertension and other forms of cardiovascular disease.
In fact, said ISU exercise physiologist Warren Franke, in this group of law enforcement officers, work poses a greater risk for heart disease than smoking or high blood pressure and poses about the same risk as diabetes or high cholesterol levels.
"We thought the results might show that law enforcement officers would have a higher incidence of cardiovascular disease, but we didn't expect such a marked difference," said Franke, an associate professor in ISU's health and human performance department who led the research project.
Results of Franke's 1997 research were published in the May 12 edition of the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.
Franke, former graduate student Shannon Collins and ISU statistics professor Paul Hinz surveyed 232 retired male Iowa Department of Public Safety officers, or their widows, age 55 and above. The majority of the group were former state troopers. Also included were Department of Criminal Investigation officers, Capitol Police, fire marshals and narcotics enforcement officers.
The ISU researchers compared the rate of cardiovascular disease and cardiovascular disease risk factors among the law enforcement personnel with 817 Iowa males of the same age group and representative of the general Iowa population.
The difference in the results surprised Franke. The law enforcement officers' rate of heart attacks, strokes, coronary surgery and other related conditions was 31.5 percent compared to the general population's rate of 18.4 percent.
The difference was even more striking when Franke examined only the effects of law enforcement work, eliminating cardiovascular disease risk factors like diabetes, high cholesterol and smoking. Law enforcement officers were 2.34 times more likely to suffer from heart problems than the public.
"Part of it is the stress of the profession," Franke explained. "Shift work and diet also enter in. These officers tend to work rotating shifts. And most of them eat out when they're on duty. They don't have a lot of time, so they tend to eat fast food."
Franke said the research does not definitively explain the role law enforcement work plays on stress and the other factors leading to cardiovascular disease. His research is only the second study of the subject. The first research, done 15 years ago in Boston, found only a slight increase of cardiovascular risk among police officers.
"Obviously, more research is needed," Franke said. "Our study does, however, suggest that when you take out risk factors like high cholesterol, tobacco use and obesity, there is a strong relationship between their profession and heart disease."
Iowa Department of Public Safety (DPS) officials have been concerned with the fitness of their officers for some time. A new physical fitness program is under way to help officers stay in shape and deal with the stress of their jobs. Iowa DPS Commissioner Paul Wieck II said the new physical fitness program serves Iowans in several ways.
"The officers of the Iowa Department of Public Safety are mandated to protect the citizens and enforce the laws of the state of Iowa," Wieck said. "Often, it requires extreme physical exertion and endurance to save a life, effect an arrest or to protect the public. Iowans have a right to expect their peace officers to be able to fulfill these obligations.
"As a favorable aside, a fit force of officers decreases use of sick leave, enhances morale, reduces stress and helps an individual to better cope with the many and varied demands placed on law enforcement officers today."
The new Iowa DPS fitness program is being phased in. It was voluntary when implemented in 1997 and is now mandatory. By 2003, officers' performance evaluations will reflect whether they have met department fitness standards. In addition, policy changes have been made to assist Iowa State Patrol officers in rural areas or small towns to use workout facilities in nearby communities.
Loras Jaeger, director of the Iowa State University Department of Public Safety, said Franke's report is not all that surprising when considering the nature of police work.
"The work can be quite stressful. You're very sedentary most of the time, then all of sudden you get an emergency call," said Jaeger, a former Cedar Falls police chief. "That's when the adrenaline really flows."
ISU public safety officers take physical fitness tests twice a year and are expected to meet fitness standards. The ISU department also is part of a trial project to develop and implement stress-reduction programs for law enforcement officers and their families. The LEAD (Law Enforcement and Development) Program also serves the Ames Police Department and the Story County Sheriff's Department.
"LEAD is a holistic approach to fitness for our officers," Jaeger explained. "We want our people to be both emotionally and physically fit."
The program includes ways to identify and minimize stress, training programs to improve the officers' overall health, critical incident debriefing and 24-hour crisis assistance for departmental personnel and their immediate families.
NOTE TO MEDIA: Franke is pronounced "Frankee" and Wieck is pronounced "Week"
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