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25% of US soldiers became obese during Covid, study finds

NY Army National Guard Soldiers of the 27th Infantry Brigade Combat Team during farewell at Thompson Road Armory in Syracuse, NY on July 15, 2022. (Major Avery Schneider/U.S. Army National Guard)
August 16, 2023

A new study reveals that the number of U.S. soldiers identified as overweight or obese increased significantly during the Covid-19 pandemic, with almost 25% of Army members designated with obesity.

According to BMC Public Health and the National Institutes of Public Health, the data collected from roughly 192,000 active duty members during a nine-month period of the pandemic revealed that 50.5% of U.S. soldiers were overweight, while 23.2% were identified as obese.

The results indicate that 73.7% of U.S. soldiers were categorized as either overweight or obese during the Covid-19 pandemic. BMC Public Health noted that the U.S. Army experienced “significant public health and readiness concerns” due to the increase in the weight of a majority of the nation’s active Army members.

The study of U.S. Army members utilized the Military Health System Data Repository to conduct the retrospective study. The body mass index of U.S. soldiers was documented from February 2019 to January 2020, as well as from September 2020 to June 2021. As a result, researchers were able to see a difference between the body mass index of soldiers both prior to the Covid-19 pandemic and after the pandemic.

“Based on the results from this study and the literature, increases in BMI among Army soldiers are likely to continue unless there is intervention,” the report explained.

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Calculating body mass index is the method the Army typically uses to estimate a soldier’s body fat. While the number of soldiers identified as overweight or obese was already increasing prior to the pandemic, the study revealed that the pandemic lockdowns likely contributed to an even sharper increase in overweight Army members.

Prior to the pandemic, roughly 68% of U.S. soldiers had an unhealthy body mass index. Following the pandemic, almost 74% of soldiers were determined to have an unhealthy body mass index.

According to the study, the most significant change was found in junior enlisted soldiers, ages 20-24.

“Future research into targeted measures to prevent obesity among soldiers during future public health emergencies is needed, especially in times of lockdown and social distancing measures,” the study stated.

The study also noted that additional analysis concerning the effect of obesity on the Army’s fitness would bring attention to the rising issue in the U.S. military.