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Obesity In The Military On The Rise

February 11, 2009

The obesity rate among US troops has more than doubled since the start of the Iraq war in 2003, according to a new Pentagon report.

“In the past decade among active military members in general, the percent of military members who experienced medical encounters for overweight/obesity has steadily increased; and since 2003, rates of increase have generally accelerated,” said the report published in January’s edition of the Defense Department’s Medical Surveillance Monthly Report.

This result reflects a national trend of increasing obesity rates among Americans, however it also indicates the heightened stress of continuing combat deployments, the study said.

“Stress and return from deployment were the most frequently cited reasons for recent weight gain,” the report said.

In 1998, 25,652, or 1.6 percent of the entire armed forces were diagnosed overweight. In 2003, that figure increased to 34,333 – 2.1 percent, and has since risen to 68,786 – 4.4 percent of the total.

Additionally, the Army reports problems of obesity among recruits. One in five Americans between ages 18 to 34 is obese, the study says.

“Overweight/obesity is a significant military medical concern because it is associated with decreased military operational effectiveness.”

Last week, Army officials voiced concerns about the increasing rate of suicide among its soldiers in 2009, following a year that saw record US military suicide rates.

Confirmed and unconfirmed combined would amount to 24 suicide deaths among Army soldiers in January alone ““ six times the rate in January 2008. Furthermore, Pentagon data shows that there were 16 US combat deaths in Afghanistan and Iraq in January, making the number of suicide deaths one third larger than those occurring in combat.

The Army’s confirmed rate of suicides in 2008 was 20.2 per 100,000 soldiers. The nation’s suicide rate was 19.5 per 100,000 people in 2005, the most recent figure available, Army officials said last month.

Suicides for Marines were also up in 2008. There were 41 in 2008, up from 33 in 2007 and 25 in 2006, according to a Marines report.

“When people are apart you have infidelity, financial problems, substance abuse and child behavioral problems,” said Col. Kathy Platoni, chief clinical psychologist for the Army Reserve and National Guard. “The more deployments, the more it is exacerbated.”

The Pentagon also notes a rise in divorce rates among soldiers and Marines and increased use of prescription drugs in the Army.

Image Courtesy US Army

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