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Pentagon says Navy is the fattest military branch

Sailors from Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) 3 begin a 1.5 mile run during the Physical Fitness Assessment (PFA) at Naval Base Ventura County. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communications Specialist 1st Class Petty Officer Chris Fahey/Released)
September 05, 2019

A weight issue among service members in the Navy may be the latest risk to fleet readiness, according to a recent Pentagon study.

The report found fully 22 percent of the Navy’s personnel are obese, compared to 18 percent for the Air Force, according to The Washington Examiner. The Army ranked behind the other two branches with 17 percent of its personnel being obese; still more than double the Marines, who were the leanest branch with only 8.3 percent being obese.

The Navy’s issue with overweight personnel may set an increased risk for heart disease and stroke and undermine Navy operations at critical moments.

“I think it’s a real readiness issue,” U.S. Navy officer Jimmy Drennan told the Washington Examiner.

Drennan, who is the president of the Center for International Maritime Security, noted U.S. Navy vessels already have hatches and passageways that are tighter than other navies.

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As an example of other varied concerns, Drennan also said overweight personnel might suffer from fatigue or heat stroke when called upon to fight a fire in full gear.

Drennan cited a lack of emphasis on physical education in schools, along with low exercise and bad eating habits as society-wide contributors to the obesity problem. He also noted bad habits common in the military, such as the rampant consumption of sugary energy drinks.

“Sailors drink plenty of energy drinks and we know that’s not healthy,” Drennan said.

He said the Navy receives pallet-sized shipments of those same energy drinks when ships are resupplied at sea.

“The U.S. military is a subset of U.S. society and America is the most obese country in the world, with over one-third of adults qualified as obese,” said Thomas Spoehr, a retired lieutenant general.

Spoehr who researches health and obesity, said obesity is the underlying cause for many chronic diseases, including diabetes, and contributes to joint problems, hindering a service member’s ability to handle heavy loads and a stressful work tempo.

“All these issues contribute to service members unable to perform their primary mission when the need arises,” he said.

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According to the Washington Times, the Navy has previously taken some steps to combat its obesity problem, including a Fitness Enrollment Program that enrolls sailors who fail to meet fitness standards and requires them to undergo mandatory weigh-ins and exercises.

The Army has also taken steps to head off weight issues by hiring dietitians and color-coding food choices by measure of nutritional value.

Measures for determining obesity are still debated among military branches. The Navy uses a tape test to measure the necks and waists of sailors who fail to meet body fat standards, but the tape measure may disqualify sailors who otherwise meet physical fitness standards.