Namely, obesity is a serious medical condition that can cause complications such as metabolic syndrome, high blood pressure, atherosclerosis, heart disease, diabetes, high blood cholesterol, cancers and sleep disorders. However, overweight and obesity, as well as their related no communicable diseases, are largely preventable and treatment depends on the cause and severity of seafarers’ condition and whether there are any complications.

The BMI formula

The Body Mass Index (BMI) and waist circumference can help seafarers to check if their weight is normal in relation to their body length. BMI is the product of weight in kilogrammes / height in metres x height in metres. It is a simple figure which derives from data commonly collected at medical examinations but can be affected by the shape of the body frame and its muscle mass. Therefore, it is not the best predictor of long-term risk from obesity associated conditions. The following limits are indicative:

  • A BMI below 17,5 indicates a person is “underweight
  • A BMI between 17,5 and 24,9 indicates a person is of ‘’normal weight’’
  • A BMI more than 25 indicates ‘’overweight‘’
  • A BMI above 30 means a person is ‘’obese or pathologically overweight’’

Risks for seafarers

There are a series of risks affecting the routine operations onboard due to overweight; immediate risks involved for both the seafarers themselves and other crew members are:

  1. Inability to undertake arduous emergency tasks such as fire-fighting, evacuation from the vessel and recovering people from the water.
  2. Difficulty entering and leaving restricted/enclosed spaces, during normal duties and especially if needing rescue because of collapse or injury
  3. Increased risk of injury from falls and of acute illness and incapacity while at sea
  4. Inability to fit into protective clothing and lifesaving equipment.
  5. Exceeding the design standards for equipment used to work at heights and for use in life threatening situations, for instance emergency chutes and free fall lifeboats.

Action taken

If weight is increasing, action should be taken immediately to lose excess weight and prevent further increase in the future. The combination of a balanced diet and physical activity is the basis of a healthy weight and the following basic tips may be helpful for life onboard:

  1. Control the consuming fats
  2. Minimize the use of sugar & salt
  3. Follow a physical exercise program
  4. Have adequate rest hours
  5. Eat as many fruits as possible daily

Ship operators need to be aware of the issue and encourage crew members to achieve and maintain a healthy weight by implementing the following measures:

  • Raise awareness of the causes and the associated risks during meetings and medical check-ups and provide information such as related posters.
  • Organize weight control campaigns on board on a regular basis in order to monitor crew members’ BMI. Provide assistance and guidance to those exceeding BMI 25.
  • Provide required facilities as per ILO/MLC (gym, exercise equipment etc), reassuring they are in good condition and easily accessible to everyone.
  • Support a healthy menu onboard and promote overweight prevention measures; a related company policy and the involvement of key crew members (cook, ship handler) may contribute to effective implementation.