Cops and Heart Attacks

Wanna know what kills the most cops?

Content Warning: I’m going to talk about heart disease and the united states police system.

The leading cause of death of police officers in the United States is heart disease. This isn’t particularly surprising but it’s also kinda weird when you think about it.

First, the leading cause of all deaths in the United States is heart disease, by a large margin. The second most common cause of death is cancer, and cancer tends to impose penalties on your mobility and ability that makes it more likely an officer who gets cancer is likely to stop being an officer. Heart disease on the other hand, despite being tied to a lot of fairly visible factors, is still something that can creep up on you. As much as fatphobic commenters would like to pretend it’s ‘obvious’ when someone is suffering from heart disease, it’s really not – these factors are weird and unreliable in humans. Point is, if it’s the most common form of death, you would expect, assuming no other factors, Police would be killed by the most common cause of death.

But the thing is, we know that jobs can do things that change your life. For example, if you work as a lumberjack, you’re much more likely to be killed by a falling tree than not. If you work as a rodeo clown, you’re much more likely to suffer broken bones from being gored by a bull.

What’s more, it’s not just that police die from heart disease like everyone in the United States. It’s that police are really more likely to die of heart attacks in the United States. There’s even a specific type of thing that police officers do that’s most likely to cause an officer death: when involved in chases, restraints, and altercations, police are more likely to have heart attacks and die.

So that sounds really bad right, that sounds like police must be doing the worst kind of shit that makes them super likely to have heart attacks, right?

Except the thing is, this puts ‘the scary bits’ of police work on par with other high risk activities, like shoveling snow and mowing the lawn.

Here’s the thing: Police Work is not causing heart attacks. These are stressful situations on part with any other stressful situation that puts the body at risk if you’re likely to have a heart attack. Trying to shovel snow when you’re not up for it will kill you too. No, what’s happening here is that cops are really likely to have the underlying condition that means a sudden burst of activity kills you. Part of that, they say, is dietary — that police are likely to spend their time consuming bad food, because it’s convenient. That’s a little weird, because at last check there’s a physical exercise component of their training and they’re meant to be like, a force about discipline? Right? And one of the things that’s meant to reduce risk of heart disease is regular exercise.

Which it seems police don’t get?

The narrative out of police forces is that they are an elite force doing an impossibly hard job that consumes their lives and stresses them out, but we need them and only they can do the job they do. Except as it is, it seems if you look at the statistics, they seem to be at best people who are about as fit and prepared and capable as everyone else, and doing their job is seventy times more likely to kill them because of their dietary choices and a lack of awareness of their own basic fitness.

It’s not that cops are likely to die from dudes with guns, confronting baddies or brutal violence. They’re more likely to die while restraining someone else because the shock and stress makes them pass out and have a heart attack. Which is super weird, right?

This isn’t to shame people for what they eat, or how their physical fitness relates to their job. It’s more that if this is statistically significant, it asks the question of if this service is actually doing the thing it’s meant to do, since one of the criteria for ‘exercise’ the report indicates that might improve health and life outcomes for these affected officers is suggesting the officers walk for fifteen minutes every day. What’s more, it’s hard to get officers to make changes to their lifestyle, if they’re not new recruits, suggesting that any police officer who has been working for more than one year is probably going to ignore authoritive advice for their health and wellbeing.

Again: Isn’t that weird?