BUILDING HEALTHY MILITARY COMMUNITIES TOOLKIT

A RESOURCE FOR THE DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE HEALTH PROVIDERS AND COMMUNITIES

A soldier is doing pushups and looking up.
"Over the last decade, we have experienced increasing difficulty in recruiting soldiers due to the decline in the health of our nation’s youth. Unless we see significant change in physical activity and nutrition in America our national security will be affected."
Mark Hertling, Lieutenant General, U.S. Army (Retired)

Healthy Weight Overview

Obesity is a pressing issue for our past, current, and future service men and women and their families. A CDC infographic, Unfit to Serve, outlines the problem: 

  • Approximately 1 in 5 children and 2 in 5 adults in the U.S. struggle with obesity.
  • Only half of adults and about one quarter of youth get recommended amounts of aerobic physical activity.
  • About 1 in 4 young adults is too heavy to serve in our military.

Seventy-one percent of young people in the U.S. would not be able to join the military if they wanted to. The three most common reasons are overweight or obesity, educational deficits, and criminal or drug abuse record. Furthermore, overweight and obesity impacts military readiness. Overweight and obesity among active-duty service members has risen 73% between 2011 and 2015. These individuals are less likely to be medically ready to deploy. Between 2008 and 2017 active-duty soldiers had more than 3.6 million musculoskeletal injuries. One study found that active-duty soldiers with obesity were 33 percent more likely to get this type of injury.

Obesity is also costly. As our nation’s largest employer, the DoD spends about $1.5 billion annually in obesity-related health care costs for current and former service members and their families, as well as costs to replace unfit personnel. Lost workdays due to overweight and obesity for active-duty military personnel is 658k days per year. These cost the Department of Defense approximately $103 million per year.

General Information about Healthy Weight

A high amount of body fat can lead to weight-related diseases and other health issues. Being underweight can also put one at risk for health issues. Body Mass Index (BMI) and waist circumference are two measures that can be used as screening tools to estimate weight status in relation to potential disease risk.

BMI is a person’s weight in kilograms divided by the square of height in meters. A high BMI can be an indicator of high body fat; low BMI can be an indicator of too low body fatness. BMI and waist circumference can be used as screening tools, but they are not diagnostic of the body fatness or health of an individual. To calculate BMI, see the BMI Calculator.

  • If your BMI is less than 18.5, it falls within the underweight range.
  • If your BMI is 18.5 to 24.9, it falls within the normal or healthy weight range.
  • If your BMI is 25.0 to 29.9, it falls within the overweight range.
  • If your BMI is 30.0 or higher, it falls within the obese range.

It is important to note that Service members might be held to higher standards based on their mission essential tasks. Additionally, muscle-bound or very fit Service members might have higher BMIs because muscle weighs more than fat tissue. In these cases, a higher BMI does not confer an increased risk of disease or injury. A trained healthcare provider should perform appropriate health assessments in order to evaluate an individual’s health status and risks.

Drill instructor and female soldier in training

Another way to estimate potential disease risk is to measure waist circumference. Excessive abdominal fat may be serious because it places an individual at greater risk for developing obesity-related conditions, such as Type 2 Diabetes, high blood pressure, and coronary artery disease. Waistline measurements that may indicate an increased risk are:

  • A man whose waist circumference is more than 40 inches
  • A non-pregnant woman whose waist circumference is more than 35 inches

Note: The information provided in this section is intended for adult men and non-pregnant women only. To assess the weight of children or teenagers, see the Child and Teen BMI Calculator.

The CDC website provides information about preventing weight gain. If an individual does not currently have a healthy weight, there are additional resources for losing weight.

Nutrition

Poor nutrition contributes to many costly diseases, including obesity, heart disease, and some cancers. The availability of healthy, affordable foods contributes to a person’s diet and risk of related chronic diseases. According to CDC, fewer than 1 in 10 children and adults eat recommended daily amount of vegetables putting them at risk for vitamin and mineral malnutrition. These statistics are compounded by the fact that millions of Americans do not enjoy food security, which is defined by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) as access by all people at all times to enough food for an active, healthy life. In 2018, 14.3 million U.S. households reported not having enough money to purchase food for everyone in their house at some point during the year.

Physical Activity

Physical Activity is one of the best things people can do to improve their health. It is vital for healthy aging and can reduce the burden of chronic diseases and prevent early death. Active people generally live longer and are at less risk for serious health problems like heart disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity, and some cancers. According to CDC, even though getting enough physical activity could prevent 1 in 10 premature deaths, only half of adults get the physical activity they need to help reduce and prevent chronic diseases. Furthermore, approximately 1 in 4 young adults are too heavy to serve in the military.

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