2nd Amendment to the Constitution of The United States of America

A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.

"I ask sir, what is the militia? It is the whole people except for a few politicians."
- George Mason (father of the Bill of Rights and The Virginia Declaration of Rights)

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Army still too fat to fight?

Is the Army too fat to fight?  Maybe yes says military leaders in an on going concern started a few years ago over the increasing obesity in the ranks.  Apparently 1 in 4 people applying to enlist are turned away for being too fat. This report from CNN gives just a glimpse into this issue plaguing our armed forces.  But is this really a crisis of national security?

Pictures like this circulate the internet, often by member groups of other
branches, truth is, the obesity problem stretches across all services...
Traditionally, the military has tried to combat obesity by diet and exercise programs that troops are required to enroll in if they fail to pass set standards for height, weight and body fat percentages.  I can only really speak from the Army perspective, but I know all branches have some type of weight management program. The governing regulation in the Army (at least as of 2007 or so) was AR 600-9, The Army Weight Control Program.  As of my last period of service the height/weight standards for men and women were as follows....

Even in my youth at 19 at 72", I weighed over 200 pounds...but I also benched 325 pounds, could do 65 push ups, 75 sit ups and run 2 miles in under 14 minutes on my PT test too....
If you exceeded these screening table weight standards you were then measured with tape according to your sex - men on the neck and abdomen, women on the abdomen, hips, wrist and neck - and a body fat percentage was calculated.  This method was not perfect as water displacement and electric current resistance methods are more accurate, but like the PT test at the time, it did not require any special equipment other than the measuring tape and could be done "in the field".  Upon enrollment the soldier would be required to undergo nutrition and exercise counseling, to include additional PT periods, and weighed and taped monthly with an expectation that they would lose 3 pounds a month of maintain enrollment in the program.  Failure to do so could result in discharge from the military.  Regardless, the entire time you were found to be overweight your personnel records were "Flagged", meaning that (back in the "old days" of paper 201 files) a card would be stapled to the front of your personnel file which signaled that you were barred from any favorable personnel action like promotions and awards.  When I worked full time for the National Guard I had a Readiness NCO (top full time soldier in a guard unit) who had the phrase "flag him out" as part of his lexicon.  Of course this guy was old school and didn't realize that the program was designed to help soldiers and not run them out of the military unnecessarily.  Of course, I did do many discharge packets for weight control failure.

As a matter of disclosure, I will openly admit that I have been on the AWCP in the past, mostly later in my career.  Any pictures I may of posted previously of me on deployment will show a soldier who is "being all he can be", often more that Uncle Sam liked.  I was always a "big guy" and as a youngster I could handle the extra weight by exercise and activity.  Later in life and the military as genetics and my metabolism caught up to me finding time and energy wasn't always easy, especially when not in an active military status where you actually get paid to work out.  I wasn't always the best soldier I could of been, but I always passed my PT test regardless of how many extra pounds I may have carried.  Oh yeah, I was never flagged while I was an 11Bravo (Infantryman) either, it all came after I switched to Admin and sat in an office with coffee and donuts nearby. Yeah, all of that's an excuse, you can call me on it if you like....won't frost my balls.  I take full responsibility for my mistakes in this regard...and its all behind me now.   And no, I don't mean I have a fat ass....actually, I have no ass according to my wife.

Anyway, while the AWCP (and other similar programs in other services) combated the symptoms of what is a national disease, they did not address the problem.  That being that as a country...WE ARE FATTIES!

Our "heroes"?
We eat..and eat...and celebrate eating.  Ever seen Man-vs-Food on the Food channel?  We "biggie" size everything, including our food.  We even have game shows based on people losing weight.  Hell, even our PETS are fat! We are a fat nation...and apparently we are creating a fat military. 

Fat Cat and Porky Puppy
How did this happen?  Well in two words: American Exceptionalism.  We just got too damn good at being ourselves.  Centuries ago a "Rubenesque" figure was a sign of wealth and prosperity, we truly have (had) that.

We are a nation that actually has so much food we can afford to get fat.  You don't see too many commercials on TV with missionaries showing pictures of starving kids from this country (although we do have people right here every day that go hungry).  We throw and estimated 20% of our food away...20%!  When they talk of people in this country being worried that the won't have enough to eat a lot of times it means folks are worried about having enough food for multiple meals.  Many in the rest of the world relies on eating just once a day, if that. 

We are also more urban that rural now.  Back when we had an agrarian society many more people had to do manual labor to earn a living.  This helped burn calories in their diet that now go unspent with today more sedimentary lifestyle.  As we reached the industrial age people started to congregate in cities.  This had a few important impacts on American nutrition.

  1. The more regulated schedule of the industrial work in the factory conditioned people to force themselves to eat when "appropriate" instead of when hungry (the "lunch break").  Additionally,  the traditional rural practice of eating a larger meal in the middle of the day and lighter in the even was reduced with the introduction of the short lunch period, thus putting more food in our stomachs at the end of the day when our metabolisms are the slowest while sleeping
  2. The urban American lost contact with where their food came from.  Instead of being in an environment where they grew or purchased their own fresh vegetables and meat locally, the urban dweller was forced to buy their food from stores that grew larger and larger as time went on.  Advances in canning and other food storage technologies meant that less and less fresh vegetables and grains were consumed, replaces with salt laden canned and frozen varieties and breads lacking in whole grain nutrients stripped out for appearance sake. 
  3. Our desire for convenience extended to the food service industry where the words "fast" and "nutritious" didn't necessarily coexist in the same context.  Fat and sodium added flavor to the food but also added calories.  Also, the preparation methods were not always the healthiest with foods fried in saturated animal fats and palm oils being a the cheapest method but not very healthy.  To make matters worse, to attract business from the competition, chains started offering more food at lower prices.  A larger drink didn't cost them that much more and the increased business meant that profits soared.  Remember the move Supersize Me?  I don't agree with some of the stuff Morgan Sperlock has done in other political areas, but he was dead on in this movie.

What does all of this have to do with the military?

As I have stated before, the military is just a representative slice of America, if America is loaded with fatties who do you think will be walking into the recruiting stations to enlist?  I think its fair to say that the problem is more prevalent in the reserve component where guys and girls are not on duty 24/7 and have to balance a job, family and other commitments to make a living and doing PT may not be a regular occurrence.  In addition, many of the conveniences in the civilian world that helped caused the obesity epidemic have made it to the controlled environment of military life.  Burger King, Red Robin Sandwich shops and Anthony Pizza chains are located in all major military installations.  Even deployed locations are covered with fast food shacks to placate the pallet of the American soldier.

A Burger King at Kandahar, Afghanistan.  Since March 2010 these MWR food shacks have been shut down by Army leaders concerned that soldier's comfort facilities were using supply channels that could be better served providing combat supplies to the troops instead of burgers and coffee drinks.  
 We have a national epidemic of obesity that will someday come crashing down on us, if it hasn't already started to do so. What does obesity cost us as a society?

Well, the associated medial cost of obesity have risen to approximately $1 Billion for just military member, retirees, veterans and their families alone.  Take into consideration that the military is just a sample representation of the rest of the country, and that less than 7% of the population are veterans and you can guess at the total cost to our country.

To obese individuals, the costs are much more personal and higher...

  • Heart Disease
  • High Blood pressure
  • High "bad" cholesterol
  • Cancer
  • Diabetes
  • Stroke
  • Liver and Gall Bladder disease
  • Sleep Apnea
  • Issues related to structural strain due to joints and bones supporting more weight than designed
  • Sexual dsyfunction
  • Lack of enjoyment of life activities 
  • And the list goes on....
 I personally suffer from a HBP and Cholesterol issues that are partly genetic but no doubt aggravated by my current weight level.  And I am not alone.   Its too late for my personal health to affect the readiness of our military, but its not too late to make some changes for my personal benefit and that of my family.  A few extra minutes walking a day, fewer trips to the coffee shop for donuts during the work week, cut back on desert...oh yeah, and some physical exercise.  All of these would contribute to a few inches off of the waistline over time.  Right now I weigh 256 pounds, plus or minus a couple of pounds here and there around the holidays.  Lets see if I can get my weight down to 245 by Christmas and get at least within sight of my "fighting weight" by next Spring.

Anyone else want to join me for the challenge of slowing the progression to the grave? 


Paracooper said...

I'm game. Weighing in at 238 on a 70" frame just ain't cutting it anymore.

Huey said...

Cool...I'll figure out something on how we can track ourselves and be back in touch.