New research from the Center for Health Services Research at the Uniformed Services University revealed a surge in obesity rates among active-duty Army soldiers during the Covid-19 pandemic.
The study found that nearly 10,000 soldiers became obese between February 2019 and June 2021. This increase pushed the military obesity rate to almost a quarter of the troops examined, with similar increases found in the Navy and the Marines, according to the Associated Press.
@USArmy= 10,000 active duty soldiers developed obesity between 2/2019-6/2021, pushing rate to 25% of troops studied
Increases also seen in @USNavy & @USMC
Overweight/obese troops more likely to be injured
US military loses +650,000 workdays annually due to obesity issues https://t.co/4hU0iqOgKq pic.twitter.com/3aWdxHhVre
— Prodigal (@ProdigalThe3rd) April 2, 2023
Tracey Perez Koehlmoos, the director of the Bethesda, Maryland Center, said, “The Army and the other services need to focus on how to bring the forces back to fitness.”
According to Koehlmoos, more recent data on military obesity won’t be available until later this year, but there are no indications that the trend is reversing.
In addition, the Army failed to meet its recruiting goal for the first time in fiscal year 2022, falling short by 15,000 recruits or 25% of the requirement. The Associated Press also reports that 75% of Americans aged 17 to 24 are ineligible for military service due to several reasons, including being overweight, which is the top individual disqualifier.
According to federal research, overweight and obese service members are at a higher risk of injury and less likely to meet the physical demands of their job. Additionally, the military loses more than 650,000 workdays annually due to excess weight, and the cost of obesity-related health issues exceeds $1.5 billion each year for current and former military personnel and their families.
The impact of obesity on the U.S. military has been a concern among military leaders for over 10 years. However, the lasting effects of the pandemic emphasize the need for immediate action, according to retired Marine Corps Brigadier General Stephen Cheney, who co-wrote a recent report on the issue.
Despite warnings, the problem has not improved but has actually worsened, Cheney stated during a November webinar hosted by the nonprofit think tank American Security Project.
“The numbers have not gotten better. They are just getting worse and worse and worse,” said Cheney. “The country has not approached obesity as the problem it really is,” he added.
During the pandemic, weight gain was not just limited to military service members. In a survey of American adults last year, almost half reported gaining weight after the first year of the COVID-19 emergency. Meanwhile, another study found a significant increase in obesity rates among children during the pandemic. These trends emerged in a country where over 40% of American adults and nearly 20% of children are already struggling with obesity, according to the CDC.