Too Fat To Fight?
Recently some of the U.S. High Command, some of our top generals, has reported that the number one medical reason for our military personnel being unfit to serve in the military is you guessed it, obesity. A shocking 27% of America’s fighting force in one recent survey were found to be overweight and over the regulatory limits considered the uppermost allowable weight that allowed one to be fit enough to serve in the U.S. Armed Forces.
Having served in the United States Air Force Reserved and spent several short tours in my annual active duty service at military hospitals- mainly Malcolm Grow Medical Center in Washington, D.C.- I of course also witnessed the gradual increase in the average weight of our nation’s troops. Our fighting men and women mirror the rest of society and struggle with the same temptations and the same obesogenic environment.
What is the solution? The solution is a radically different approach to health, fitness and weight maintenance in the military. All one has to do is spend a few days on any U.S. military base to see a pervasive culture and environment that promotes obesity. I believe there are many factors in action at U.S. military bases that lead them to be worse than most U.S. communities, cities, towns and schools in terms of their likelihood of promoting obesity. Why do I say this? Here are some key factors.
A culture that discourages work. Yes, let’s face it, as any long term military person will tell you, if they are being honest, there are an unbelievable number of people who are considered R.O.A.D. warriors. This means Retired on Active Duty. Ask some of your friends who are in the military and you will see there is a tremendously deleterious civil servant culture that incentivizes laziness and discourages productive work. More on this in other sections and chapters, but let be honest, any job that encourages people to sit, be less active and accomplish far less work in any given day than any civilian job would tolerate is not going to be conducive to maintaining a healthy weight.
Obesogenic food service. On the base where I would normally serve one could find several of America’s typical fast food restaurants with long lines in the drive through and a great many of the soldiers accessing the high calorie, high fat and especially the high carbohydrate fast food for their meals. Even the military food service often consisted of high carbohydrate meals, snacks, plentiful desserts, soda machines, snack machines and no real effort to discourage our fighting men and women from consuming all these calories.
A military that does not enforce its own fitness regulations. Nowadays, quite frequently, physicians like me will determine that a soldier is unfit for deployment only to find that they remain on active duty because of the command staff which does not want to bother with the paperwork or the termination procedure. Or, they really know that since no one really enforces these regulations anyway it doesn’t matter all that much if another soldier is vastly overweight and couldn’t run a 100-yard dash to save his life.
These are but a few of the dangers that America’s fighting forces face on their own home base and presumably many of these same factors continue in bases abroad.
An environment and culture that promotes screen time, power points, TV watching and less physical activity.
Very little awareness or education about the deadliness to the strength of the fighting force that is posed by high carbohydrate, high calorie diets. Very little information exists on bases. There is no real general awareness of the problem and thus no active effort underway to combat it.
Clearly the combat forces do much better with respect to weight maintenance. They are encouraged to maintain an active fitness regimen. They tend to be involved in a culture that is at the tip of the spear and does involve physical combat where personal fitness is at a premium, but it falls steeply downhill from there.
So if the number one threat to the fitness of our current fighting force is obesity, one would imagine that people concerned with national security would be interested in formulating a solution to this number one threat. I am guessing that with a thin fraction of the resources that are spent on the dozens of levels of bureaucracy in the U.S. military devoted toward preventing obesity that the results would be astonishing, a fitter, more effective, more serious fighting force protecting the United States of America.