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A little extra baggage in the ambulance

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By Stephen Lega

Sunday afternoon, a few emergency personnel from around Marion County gathered for the start of an internal "Biggest Loser" competition.

Stephanie Thomas, an EMT, is in charge of the program, and she was clear why she and others wanted to do it. Although they see the results of poor health habits on a daily basis with the people they treat and transport, that hasn't meant they have adopted healthy habits of their own.

"We see the people on the stretchers, and they haven't always been that way," Thomas said. "We're going to get there, too, if we don't do something about it."

Only three of the participants were present for Sunday's weigh-in, but Thomas said a few other people had signed up but couldn't make it for the weight-in that afternoon. She added that she's hoping to get a few more people who haven't signed up as well.

Robbie Turner, the head of the Marion County EMS and a paramedic, knows he's carrying around more weight than he needs to. He also knows losing weight and living healthier will have other benefits as well.

"I'm hoping to get off my blood pressure medicine and my CPAP machine," he said.

A CPAP machine is used to treat sleep apnea, a sleep disorder in which someone's breathing is disrupted while they are asleep. Being overweight increases the risk that someone will have this condition.

The participants in the EMS's biggest loser challenge range in age from 22 to 40.

Jessica Dunn, a member of the Raywick and Gravel Switch fire departments, has another good reason to lose weight.

"I'm borderline diabetic," she said.

She added that diabetes and high blood pressure run on both sides of her family, which means she is aware of some of the risks of being overweight.

After the weigh-in, Thomas used a tool on webmd.com to calculate the participants BMI, or body mass index. (The tool can be found at www.webmd.com/diet/calc-bmi-plus.)

The tool is a guideline to what is considered a healthy weight and size based on an individual's age, height, waist size, gender and activity level.

I plugged in my own numbers (5' 9", 242 pounds) to get an idea of where I'm at. I've been working out regularly for at least six months, but I also know I've still got more to do to reach my own fitness goals.

Even though I've lost about 30 pounds, I am still considered obese based on my current weight. If there is any good news in the numbers, it's that I'm getting closer to a healthy height to waist ratio.

Thomas said she and others in the competition know that developing healthy habits will require changes to their eating habits and activity levels.

"It's just so convenient to stop and grab a burger," she said.

Armed with the information she gained from webmd.com and with her hope to start walking regularly, Thomas is ready to make the first step in the right direction.

And if they can inspire a few people to join them, even better.

The next weigh-in for the participants in the contest is scheduled for Feb. 21. Here's hoping they all see improvements, both for their sake and for the sake of the people they help every day.

If you see Dunn, Thomas or Turner out and about, give them some encouragement. Let them know you're pulling for them.

We all know that making changes, especially regarding our diets and exercise, are difficult, but doable. Sometimes a little support can be just what we need.