A new Military Times article found that the U.S. military has a bit of a weight problem, with the Army taking the top spot as the nation’s fattest, with 10.5 percent of its soldiers being overweight. The Military Times found 7.8 of the U.S. military overall are clinically obese, according to Pentagon data.
The military’s creeping weight problems are a significant issue for a country that faces a potential war against near-peer enemies. Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley predicts that if that war comes, then “if you stay in one place longer than two or three hours, you will be dead. That obviously places demands on human endurance.”
But the military branches have some obvious choices that could help troops maintain healthier weights, making it easier to fight on future battlefields. While this article focuses on potential fixes for the Army, all the branches have similar ways to win the battle of the bulge.
1. Seriously, it’s time have to look at DFAC design
So, meats and other main plate items are rationed out by military cooks and contractors who work at dining facilities, but desserts and soda are available for troops to grab for themselves.
Surely, a military fighting a weight problem would rather its soldiers choose more lean proteins and complex carbs than sugary desserts. So why not make the healthier option the easier one? Admittedly, the proteins cost more than the desserts, but replacing a soldier who becomes too fat to serve is pretty expensive too.
2. Increase the ratio of nutrition classes to information assurance classes
Classes on not sleeping with foreign spies (SAEDA) and not downloading viruses to government computers (IA) are annual training requirements. But most service members will never receive a comprehensive class on nutrition and fitness unless they are already flagged for being overweight.
Many posts have these classes, but they’re not required and are minimally advertised, if at all. Troops who want to enroll in nutrition or weight loss classes can usually find one by checking for the nutrition clinic at their base hospital.
3. Take a hard look at the nutrition cards in the DFAC
The Army’s Go For Green® program has specific criteria for food categories. (Screenshot from quartermaster.army.mil)
The Army has a fairly comprehensive program for determining the nutritional quality of food. Dishes are categorized by color to quickly tell troops whether a certain item is dubbed a “High Performance Food,” “Moderate Performance Food,” or a “Low Performance Food.”
These categories are well defined in easy-to-read charts as part of the Go For Green program, and the service labels all foods in a dining facility with color-coded cards that denote that food’s category.
But, the Army’s labels can be confusing. For instance, its hamburger yakisoba contains a whopping 813 mg of sodium, a level that would — according to the Army’s charts — qualify a dish for the “Low Performance Food” category. But, it’s labeled green, just like oven-baked chicken which contains fewer calories, fat, and sodium as well as more protein and calcium.
Meanwhile, tropical baked pork chops have fewer calories, about the same amount of fat, and more protein than yakisoba while containing 79 percent less sodium. But they carry a red label.
4. Encourage self-referrals to supplemental PT sessions and nutrition classes
A soldier who voluntarily enters a substance abuse program cannot — according to Army Regulation 623-3, paragraph 3-24 — be penalized on his evaluation report for drug addiction.
But no such protection exists for soldiers who refer themselves to a physical fitness program. So soldiers who tell their command that they have a weight problem can be penalized for the weight problem that they self-identified and asked for help.
5. All PT sessions should help you prepare for combat (not just build esprit de corps)
It was basically a mantra in most physical training sessions that this writer attended that, “Unit PT builds esprit de corps and unit cohesion. It’s not designed to help you pass the PT test.”
Now most of the PT sessions did build towards military performance and test success. But, shouldn’t all, or at least nearly all, physical training sessions train the soldier’s physical body? And leaders do have top-cover for this approach.
Army Field Manual 7-22 only recommends a single PT event as being solely for esprit de corps instead of physical training, the unit formation run. In paragraph 10-34, the guide states that these runs, “should be performed no more than once per quarter due to the limited training effect offered for the entire unit.” Yeah. This former active duty soldier had to run those things weekly.