Morale: Fat and Happy

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January17, 2007: A 2005 U.S. Department of Defense study on troop health and attitudes showed some disturbing trends. While 66 percent of service personnel were satisfied (or very satisfied) with their jobs, 62 percent were also overweight. Ten years earlier, 51 percent were overweight. At the same time, the military will discharge troops who are fat. 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.)

But the troops are putting on the pounds. Part of it is 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 45 percent of troops under twenty are overweight, compared to 28 percent in 1995.

Actually, the military has always been stressful. While 63.6 percent of troops in 2005 said their lives were stressful, the 1995 response was 62.6 percent. Part of the stress now comes from troops putting on enough pounds that they have to worry about getting tossed out for being fat.

 


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