Attrition: Death By Twinkie

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February 12, 2009: There's a war going on, and American troops are putting on the pounds because of the stress. Since 2003, the percentage of U.S. military personnel classified as overweight was not quite two percent (1.75 percent). That's where it had been since the 1990s. But since then, the rate of overweight has gone up sharply. By 2005 is was 2.9 percent. By 2007 it was 4 percent. Now it is 4.4 percent.

It's all about stress. There's a war going on, and "comfort food" works in a combat zone. That's just as well, because in today's combat zones there's no alcohol, and no sexual activity with the locals (well, it's energetically discouraged). There's also an ongoing campaign to discourage smoking, and a regular testing program to make illegal drugs career suicide. What's an anxious troop to do? Eat. There's plenty of food, and more of it is fattening (more sugar, more fat and larger portions). Thus over a third of the troops admit to eating as a way to deal with stress.

Infantry type troops have virtually no overweight troops. But these comprise less than five percent of all military personnel, and many of them actually lose weight during a combat tour. Most of the added fat is found on support troops (the other 95 percent).

By service, the air force is the fattest (6.7 percent overweight) and the marines the thinnest (1.2 percent overweight.) Weight is more of a problem with older troops. Thus 6.6 percent those 40 or older are overweight, compared to only 1.6 percent of those under 20. As in the civilian world, women have a harder time with weight. Fifteen percent of military personnel are female, and 7.2 percent of them are currently overweight.

The military will discharge troops who are fat, although a fair amount of leeway is given. For example, the U.S. Navy does not consider a five foot, nine inch male in danger of discharge at long as they weigh no more than 186 pounds. That is about twenty pounds more than the "desirable" weight. The navy, and the other services, also use Body Fat Standards (what percentage of an individuals weight is fat). For the navy, its 22 percent for men, and 33 percent for women. All services have also learned to cope with very muscular individuals. People like this, usually guys, really stand out in person. No way these fellows are "fat," they are just big, and intimidating. Just the sort of person you'd want on your side. But on paper, these people are often classified as overweight, too overweight to stay in. After several embarrassing incidents, the regulations have been amended to recognize the muscular troops for what they are (big, but not overweight.)

The military makes an effort to get chubby troops down to a safe weight. But each year, hundreds of overweight troops who fail to lose the pounds, are discharged from the service. For many of those who served in a combat zone, and dealt with the stress via food, they are just another casualty of war. A career dies, even if the soldier involved does not.

 

 


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