SPRINGFIELD, Va. –Â Â It isn’t exactly clear why America’s military personnel are getting fatter. May be that the focus on fitness has weakened. Could be that millennials, with their penchant for sedentary activities like playing video games and killing some time on social media, aren’t necessarily up to the rigors of army life. CouldÂ be all of the burgers, fries, cakes and pies served in chow halls across the world.
And maybe, too, the army is simply reflecting the nation’s wider population, whose poor eating habits are fueling the alarming rise obesity rates.
This much is clear, though: Today’s military is fatter than ever before.
For the first time in years, the Pentagon has revealed data indicating the amount of troops its deems overweight, raising big questions about the health, fitness and readiness of today’s force.
Approximately 7.8 percent of the military — approximately one in every 13 soldiers — is clinically overweight, defined by a body mass-index over 25.Â Â This speed has crept up since 2001, when it was only 1.6 per cent, or one in 60, according to Defense Department data obtained by Military Times. And it’s highest among blacks, women, Hispanics and elderly service members.
In comparison with all the U.S. civilian population, the rate of obese troops is far smaller. Approximately 70% of the adult American population is clinically overweight or obese, according to data in the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.
Defense Department health officials introduced the information in the Military Times after requests. They didn’t provide service-specific information to demonstrate the rate of obese troops specifically within the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps.
Even battle troops are getting fatter. On average, those assigned to combat units are not as likely to be obese as the force in the large. In 2001, only about 1 in every 100 service members assigned to battle career fields was flagged to be obese. It’s about one in 15.
This disclosure comes at a time when top Pentagon health officials are the methods for evaluating it as well as forcewide guidelines for body composition criteria. A diagnosis lead to involuntary separation or of obesity may stall a profession, therefore these policies are fundamental to military lifestyle.
Some Pentagon officials say the indications of obesity are not anything to worry about.Â Â Still others state obesity can be a life-and-death issue on the battlefield. Troops that are overweight may not move as quickly in ground combat, which makes them easier targets. And if they’re wounded, it is more challenging for their buddies to pull them.
“If I have to climb up to the top of a mountain in Nuristan, in Afghanistan, and when I have somebody who’s classified as clinically obese, they are possibly going to become a responsibility for me on that patrol,” said Army Command Sgt. Maj. John Troxell, the military’s top noncommissioned officer and the senior enlisted adviser to Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford.Â Â
Troxell said the current force is combat ready, but he believes the obesity trends are troublingÂ Â Â and need careful consideration from older leaders.
“I really don’t think that it’s a clear openness concern right now.Â Â However, I think that it’s something that needs our attention. And we really must look across our solutions in what we’re doing every morning or each day to prepare the people for what could be the worst day of the life,” Troxell said in a recent interview.
Top Pentagon health officials say the growth that is obesity is nothing to worry about. Dr. Terry Adirim, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for health services policy and oversight, indicated there may, in fact, be no real growth in obesity. She called it a “quote-unquote growth” and said that the data might only reflect that military doctors are more mindful of obesity and for this reason flagging it frequently in official health records.
“A doctor who’s now more conscious about fitness and nutrition, they may be diagnosing it over previous decades. … You can’t tell from these numbers exactly what it is that is accounting for all these apparent gains,” Adirim said.
The obesity data offered by the Pentagon is based from medical records, not the operational induce’s until-level analyzing for individual fitness evaluations.Â Â Adirim rejected any concerns about military readiness and emphasized comparisons to the far higher obesity levels for the civilian population. “I’m not concerned about those numbers reflecting issues with openness or fitness,” she said. “In actuality, I feel great that our military service members are well below the general population when it comes to BMI measurement which are obese and obese.”
Military health officials caution against putting too much emphasis on body mass-index scores, which only evaluate an individual’s height and weight to flag those who have unhealthy levels of body fat.
The BMI measurement can be criticized as a blunt instrument that wrongly identifies body contractors with heavy muscle mass as being obese, and misses flabby and unfit people who have been have scrawny body types.Â Â
“you can’t extrapolate directly to state, because a BMI might be higher, that person then is unhealthy and so they will not be prepared for battle,” said Dr. Donald Shell, the Pentagon’s director of Disease Prevention, Disease Management and Population Health Policy and Oversight office.
The hottest Pentagon obesity info confirms concerns raised by “Mission: Readiness,” a nonprofit group of over 600 retired military officers who work to strengthen national security by advocating for kids nationwide to have good schools and great eating habits.Â Â Obesity is atop the group’s agenda. Studies suggest that about 70 percent of American adolescents are not eligible for military support,Â and failure to meet fitness criteria is a top cause.
“This is about the national security of the United States,” said retired Army Lt. Gen. John Bednarek, who was the greatest ranking American general in Iraq at 2014. “it is a long-term trend and we cannot turn a blind eye.Â Â The main point is that our commanders and senior enlisted leaders need to take a peek at what we’re serving, whether it’s at the [dining facility] or aboard a boat in the mess.Â Â Are we supplying choices that are healthy? Are we supplying fruits and vegetable options? Rather than the very first thing they see in the morning would be that the grill using a 22-grams-of-fat sausage patty?”
New policy in the FunctionsÂ Â
The BMI metric is a vital issue for the Pentagon’s current review of its forcewide body makeup policy, the first time in 14 years which officials have rewritten those rules.
For many troops, the official evaluation of body composition starts with the BMI test to determine if their stature and weight align adequately to suggest they’re healthy. If individual troops show a good BMI, they pass on the body composition evaluation. Should they fail, they must undergo a much more complete “tape test” to estimate actual body fat percent.
The current policy requires service members to maintain body fat levels below a key threshold — 28 percent for men and 36 per cent for girls. And for a long time the Pentagon has demanded the services to apply that having a notoriously low-tech “tape test.” Failure is often listed in official personnel documents and will impact future promotion prospects. Repeated failures could result in involuntary separation.
Many troops are critical of the BMI and the cassette tests, which could punish individuals.
Top health plan to publish a policy later this year that may have a sweeping impact on how the army measures and defines health and fitness.