Pandemic Pounds Push 10,000 U.S. Army Soldiers into Obesity

After pandemics early in the lockdown, and endless hour changes, locations, and remote work, many service members struggle with motivation to work out as well as weight gain

New research has shown that the obesity rate in the military of the U.S. surged dramatically during the pandemic. In the United States Army alone, almost 10,000 soldiers on active duty developed obesity between February 2019 and June 2021, pushing the rate to nearly a quarter million troops studied. Increases were observed in the U.S. Marines and Navy as well. 

Novel research found that U.S. military obesity surged during the Covid-19 pandemic. In the U.S. Army alone, almost 10,000 soldiers on active duty became obese between February 2019 and June 2021, which skyrocketed the rate to nearly a quarter of the studied troops. Substantial increases were seen among the U.S. Navy and Marines, as well.

“The Army and other services need to focus on how to bring the forces back to fitness,” said the Center for Health Services Research director at the Uniformed Services University in Bethesda, Maryland, according to Tracy Perez Koehlmoos.

According to the DOD, obese and overweight troops face a high likelihood of being unable to endure the physical demands of their profession and are more likely to be injured. According to data, the military loses over 650,000 workdays per year due to obesity-related health costs, which surpass $1.5 billion per year for former and current service members and families. 

With no sign of the trend abating, longstanding concerns about the readiness of U.S. troops continues. 

Leaders in the military have long warned of the impact obesity will have on the U.S. military; however, lingering effects of the pandemic only further highlight the urgency of action needed, according to retired Marine Corps Brigadier General Stephen Cheney. 

“The numbers have not gotten better,” said Cheney in a November webinar. “They are just getting worse and worse and worse.”

 Being disqualified for obesity is the largest disqualifier, disqualifying over 1 in 10 potential recruits, according to the report. 

“It is devastating. We have a dramatic national security problem,” said Cheney.

Pandemic pounds more than just a military problem

Adding additional pounds is not just a military problem. A survey conducted last year determined that almost half of U.S. adults reported gaining weight after the first year of the Covid-19 pandemic. An additional study found a steep rise in obesity among children during the pandemic. The increases come in a country that already sees over 40% of adults and almost 20% of children struggling with obesity, according to the CDC.

“Why would we think the military is any different than a person who is not in the military?” said endocrinologist from the University of Michigan, Dr. Amy Rothberg. Rothberg directs a weight-loss program. “Under stress, we want to store calories.”