Army, Navy service members and veterans struggle with obesity at same rate as civilians

Despite service member’s being held to a higher physical fitness standard than any other employer would require, they are not likely to maintain that standard after service.

According to a recent report by the Millennium Cohort Study, which sampled 42,200 military personnel from the period of 2001 to 2008, twenty percent of service members have obesity.

The study* comes at a time when the military is already presented with significant recruiting challenges and names obesity as one of the top reasons for military ineligibility among people ages 17 to 24, according to the Obesity Society.

“These individuals are frequently put in harm’s way to protect our nation,” said Catherine Champagne, PhD, RD, member of The Obesity Society’s Advocacy Committee. “We count on our military to be in the best shape both physically and mentally, and these data show there is a need to improve efforts to maintain a healthy weight within our Armed Forces.”

Of the 42,200 individuals, rates of obesity were significantly higher among veterans (32%) compared to service members (20%). Percentage of veterans with obesity did not change significantly between less than one year and more than three years after military separation, suggesting that the increase in obesity may occur shortly after separation.

“Because military personnel – and especially veterans – make up a sizable portion of the U.S. population, this research is important to the overall health of the country,” continued Dr. Champagne, of The Obesity Society. “The findings show that even when equipped with the knowledge of how to implement healthy behaviors, it can be difficult to maintain a healthy weight when motivational drivers change. Given the associations of obesity and its complications, this should be seen as a national priority both for the American people and its military.”

Participants with obesity were significantly more likely to be male, older, less educated, in the Army or Navy, and separated/retired from the military.

Individuals with obesity also had significantly higher rates of depression and post-traumatic stress disorder than individuals with normal weight and had lower mental and physical functional scores.

*Study limitations include that the analysis relies on self-reported data and that data was based on a random sample of Service members serving in 2000 (individuals who are now likely in their 30s and 40s), which may not be entirely representative of today’s military profile.

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