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Police, Fire Recruits Less Physically Fit

JACKSON, MS -- Not only is the military grappling with decreased fitness levels among new recruits, but local police and fire departments also are having trouble finding applicants who can pass the initial physical training test.

One-third of trainees failed the physical training test for the Jackson (MS) Police Department’s fall police academy class. The test consists of push-ups, a 1.5-mile run, an obstacle course and a flexibility test.

“What we are finding is a decline in overall physical strength,” Deputy Police Chief Gerald Jones told the Clarion Ledger. Jones said the current class of recruits dropped from 600 initial applicants to 100 after they took the physical training test, written test and other pre-employment screenings.

Although no national studies on police and fire recruits exist, some 77 percent of fire and emergency medical technician trainees were obese or overweight, according to a study released last year examining emergency personnel in Massachusetts. Some 7 percent of the overweight trainees in the study—and 42 percent of the obese ones—failed to meet minimum fitness requirements recommended by the National Fire Protection Association.

In Los Angeles, one in five recruits for the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) fail the initial fitness exam, according to Michelle Veenstra, a police captain who oversees the LAPD training division. In Los Angeles, applicants who fail the physical training test are put in a program that includes exercise and nutritional training, as well as more intense physical training. In addition, the LAPD hired a full-time nutritionist two years ago to work with recruits and officers.

Researchers say cuts in physical education classes in schools have affected fitness levels among young people. A report from the National Association for Sport and Physical Education found that only five states require PE for all grade levels, and more than half of them allow PE exemptions—a 61 percent increase since 2006.

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