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68% of US troops are obese or overweight, study finds

U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Nicole Pino, leads Air Force basic trainees in body armor to their unexploded ordnance disposal training lesson on Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, Dec. 15, 2008. Pino is a military training instructor for the 737 Training Support Squadron. (Staff Sgt. Desiree N. Palacios/U.S. Air Force)
October 18, 2023

A new report shows that almost 70% of U.S. military troops are overweight or obese, prompting long-term concerns about national security and military readiness.

According to a new study conducted by the American Security Project, a nonprofit organization based in Washington, 68% of active duty troops in the U.S. military are considered overweight or obese based on the body mass index method of classification determined by a person’s weight and height.

Based on the findings of the study, the American Security Project warned that obesity threatens to cause challenges in “recruitment, readiness, and retention” for the U.S. military.

“Rapid and sustained recurrence of obesity across all services, ranks, and positions now poses a dire threat, especially for at-risk populations and those in critical combat roles,” the report stated. “Designing an effective strategy to monitor and tackle obesity within the U.S. military begins by treating it like any other chronic disease.”

The American Security Project explained that the Department of Defense will need to “significantly improve” research and reporting of service members’ weight in order to “effectively tackle” the current “obesity crisis.” The nonprofit organization suggested that the military can begin by implementing health policies based on evidence rather than “military appearance regulations.”

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The American Security Project noted that obesity is one of the main causes of disqualification for military applicants, leads to injuries for active service members, and can result in medical discharges. The study showed that the number of “obese” troops has increased from 10.4% to 21.6% over the past decade.

According to Stars and Stripes, the Pentagon recently indicated that less than 25% of Americans between the ages of 17 and 24 are academically and physically qualified for service in the military, resulting in a recruiting shortage.

The American Security Project explained, “Obesity poses a complex challenge to recruitment, readiness, and retention within the U.S. armed forces.”

Recommendations by the American Security Project to address the issue of obesity include reviewing regulations pertaining to body composition, removing Defense Department policies that give military commanders the ability to exempt obese troops from medical interventions, conducting additional obesity reports, and referring obese service members to physicians for proper treatment.

“By adequately screening for obesity, military services can develop proactive measures to address obesity,” the report stated. “Early screenings for obesity and related health conditions, such as prediabetes and high cholesterol, are associated with sustained weight loss, better health outcomes and a lower cost burden on healthcare systems.”

The American Security Project’s recent report also noted that the “social stigma” often associated with people struggling with obesity and other weight issues needs to be addressed.

“Obesity is a chronic disease, not a lapse in personal discipline,” the report said. “Despite this reality, the enduring stigma against overweight soldiers continues to result in punitive measures in lieu of medical treatment.”

Moving forward, The American Security Project emphasized the importance of the military “decisively and cohesively” addressing the issue of obesity by consistently upholding “strong body composition standards” and by updating health policies with “evidence-based recommendations.”

The American Security Project added, “Identifying, diagnosing, and treating obesity within soldiers at the front lines of our national defense may ultimately determine the long-term survival of the force. It may not be easy, but it is long overdue.”