The United States Military Health System (MHS) takes pride in its standing as the world’s preeminent military health delivery operation. MHS notes that it saves lives on the battlefield, combats infectious disease around the world, and cares for 9.5 million beneficiaries in one of the nation’s largest health benefit plans.
MHS’s framework for Total Force Fitness is precise and thorough, consisting of eight domains: (1) medical and dental preventive care, (ii) environmental, (iii) nutritional, (iv) psychological, (v) social, (vi) physical, (vii) financial, and (viii) ideological and spiritual.
No surprise then that the U.S. Military, via its medical surveillance monthly reports, tracks the physical fitness of its troops. One recent monthly report noted striking rises in obesity rates in the armed services, as summarized by reporter Dave Philipps in the New York Times. The Defense Department’s study which was the basis for this recent troubling report used the body mass index to determine obesity of the troops, with scores higher than 30 on the index considered obese.
In Trouble for the Pentagon: The Troops Keep Packing On the Pounds, reporter Philipps spotlighted the Navy’s steps to keep base gyms and fitness centers open all night and to eliminate fried food and sugary drinks on its ships. Why? Roughly one in every five sailors now qualify as obese.
The Marine Corps, which has the youngest force and maintains the toughest physical fitness standards, according to Philipps, was the leanest in the latest study. Nonetheless, the obesity rate of all the military branches has been rising steadily.
Of course in contrast, the military’s Special Forces, such as the Green Berets, are in a very special fitness category. As noted by Stew Smith in an article, How to Prepare for Army Green Beret Training, on Military.com: To make it in the Special Forces of any branch of the U.S. military, you need intelligence, an outstanding record of prior military service (at least three years), and very high motivation. Smith adds that of late, a new and rigorous program enables a soldier to go straight to Special Forces after Army Boot Camp. Strikingly, these especially fit forces have been used in more than 90 countries in recent years.
Nonetheless, the military’s concern for the steadily rising obesity rate must be understood with the knowledge that by 2030, it is predicted that nearly one in two American adults will be obese and in some states one in four severely so. A study warning of this coming public health disaster was recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine in December, 2019, and was spotlighted in a recent Personal Health column (2/1/20), Half of Us Face Obesity, by Jane E. Brody in the New York Times.
(Frank W. Barrie, 2/19/10)