Nearly seven in 10 active duty service members are obese or overweight, according to a report.
Researchers found that military obesity rates doubled over the decade from 10.4 percent in 2012 to 21.6 percent in 2022, and about two-thirds of active-duty service members in all branches of the military have overweight or obese.
Only 31 percent (or less than a third) were at a healthy weight.
Obesity was also found to be driving a growing recruitment crisis: one in four applicants are rejected because of their weight and has been the leading cause of rejections for more than a decade.
Experts at the American Security Project in Washington DC, who carried out the research, said the escalating crisis was “particularly alarming” and warned it was damaging the country’s ability to defend itself.
The release of the study comes at a time of global unrest and armed escalation, which could lead to a possible increase in US military operations in the future.
Researchers found that military obesity rates doubled over the decade from 10.4 percent in 2012 to 21.6 percent in 2022.
The above shows the proportion of active duty military service members who are underweight, healthy weight, overweight and obese at different stages of training.
Obesity rates among the military have increased in line with those of the civilian population. But experts say the military’s rate is skewed downward because they tend to be much younger than the general population.
For the report, researchers collected official data on the body mass index (BMI) of active duty service members.
This was taken from the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Center (AFHSC), which collects data on the health of all members of the armed forces each year.
It calculates BMI by dividing a soldier’s weight by his height, which gives an estimate of body fat percentage.
However, the measure is imperfect and often flags people with greater muscle mass as overweight, but it continues to be used as the “best choice” not only in the military, but also in daily medical evaluations and tests for Americans around the world. world. the country.
Data on recruits comes from figures from the Medical Entry Processing Stations (MEPS).
Among the different branches of the military, the navy was the most obese: 27 percent of sailors fell into this category.
The report also says that in the Air Force, 11 percent were considered obese.
Separate data showed that the Army had the second highest rate of obesity at 17 percent, while in the Marine Corps (the most elite force) eight percent of recruits were rated as obese.
The report said obesity rates increased as soldiers aged, and 15 percent were obese by the age of 21.
But by age 35, the report found the rate rises to 28 percent.
The report, led by military expert Courtney Manning, adds: ‘The increasing prevalence of obesity among service members reduces the readiness of the all-volunteer military.
‘But it is not a moral failure; “It is a health crisis.”
He added: “Framing obesity as an issue of lack of willpower or discipline prevents soldiers from seeking and receiving treatment, makes commanders and health care workers less willing to intervene, and worsens health outcomes across the services.” “.
Soldiers marked as overweight or obese are included in a weight control program.
In the military, soldiers are ordered to lose a specific number of pounds each month and be reweighed every six months until the standard is met. In the Navy’s ‘ShipShape’ program, participants attend group sessions to teach them about a healthy diet and exercise regimen.
Those who do not meet the weight standards are not eligible for promotion, transfer, reenrollment, or enrollment in professional schools.
If soldiers fail to lose weight within six to 12 months, they may be asked to leave military service.
The report also warns how rising obesity rates in the United States as a whole, Currently, more than four in 10 adults are obese, which is also causing a growing recruitment problem.
It is currently estimated that seventy-one percent of Americans are not eligible for active duty.
The Army missed its recruiting goal by 15,000 soldiers (or 25 percent) in 2022 after aiming to recruit 60,000 soldiers, data shows.
The Navy missed its goal by 7,450 (or 20 percent) of the 37,700 it intended to recruit.
Obesity-related disqualifications have increased in recent years as the number of U.S. military service personnel who are obese doubles in a decade.
The above shows the prevalence of obesity among female and male soldiers.
The above shows the most common reasons why people were disqualified from the military in 2017.
He The Air Force missed its target by 2,700 (or 10 percent) of the 26,877 officers it had sought to recruit.
The Marine Corps was the only part of the army that met its goal, surpassing it by 21 people for a total of 33,323 new recruits.
Obesity has been the most common reason military applications are denied for more than a decade, leading to poor recruiting numbers.
Those who want to join the military but don’t meet weight standards can also join a program to help them get in shape.
This includes guides like the Air Force Aim High app, which provides nutrition and fitness programs for hopeful recruits to take a course that mimics a military boot camp.
Matthew Wallin, ASP chief operating officer, said: “At a time when we are struggling to recruit a suitable workforce for the military, rising obesity rates are especially alarming.
“No person defending our country should find themselves unsupported and unequipped to fight a personal battle against obesity.”
To resolve the crisis, the report recommended that the military treat obesity as a “chronic disease” across the armed services.
He said all service members with obesity should be immediately referred to an obesity doctor, registered dietitian or bariatric doctor for accurate diagnosis and treatment.
He also suggested rescinding policies that allow commanders to exempt obese troops from intervention and treatment to reduce their waistlines.
The report states that in many cases the obesity crisis in the military is “underreported” because commanders and soldiers “constantly seek to present the most favorable measurements possible.”
This includes classifying those who are medically exempt as “within medical standards,” even if they are obese.