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US Soldiers and the New War on Weight

Soldiers seek pharmaceutical solutions for weight loss.

By:  |  March 20, 2024  |    548 Words
GettyImages-1251811928 soldiers

(Photo by Artur Widak/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

US military members are making physical fitness and weight loss more of a priority in 2024, according to a new study by the Defense Department. Although the numbers aren’t alarming per se, there is a definite upward trend in soldiers seeking pharmaceutical prescriptions to shed pounds.

The go-to resources are semaglutide and phentermine, which are marketed under the brand names Ozempic, Wegovy, and Adipex.

The Alarm Bells

But why is this even a problem when the US military sets rigorous health screenings and conditioning? Should we be concerned? The short answer is yes. The American Security Project released a 2023 report correlating the lack of Americans who can pass a physical with shrinking military recruiting figures. “The single biggest reason for disqualification is overweight and obesity,” it said.

Roll Call gives the stats on how obesity has affected recruitment:

“The Air Force sought to recruit 26,877 new airmen in fiscal 2023 but fell short by nearly 2,700 people. And the Navy missed its goal of 37,700 new sailors by 7,450. According to a December 2020 report from the Congressional Research Service, disqualification from joining the military based on inability to meet established weight standards has steadily risen since the 1970s.”

But the issue does not stop at new recruits. Obesity rates among active-duty personnel doubled in the past decade. According to the DOD research:

“Military obesity rates across the active duty jumped from 10.4 percent in 2012 to 21.6 percent in 2022, according to the study, the findings of which were released on Oct. 12. This mirrors a national trend that has shrunk the military’s recruitment pool and led to billions of dollars in associated health care costs.”

Obesity is pervasive, but the causes lie much deeper than willpower. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that around 67% of Americans are obese. As the CDC states, “The prevalence of obesity jumped from just more than 16 percent among full-time active service members to nearly 19 percent in 2021.”

Breaking it down further: Women in uniform, black service members over 40, Black non-Hispanic personnel, and those in health care or, interestingly, the Navy, are all asking for a little pharmacy boost. It should be noted that higher-ranking service members ask for prescriptions nearly twice as much as enlisted personnel.

Soldiers Turn to Pharmacology

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(Photo by: Michael Siluk/UCG/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

Current and aspiring soldiers aside, the use of pharmacology has increased in how veterans are treated to foster weight loss and counteract the effects of inactivity. Veterans Affairs (the VA) has been on board with medical treatments to help veterans lose the extra pounds that endanger joints, stress the heart and lungs, and can cause diabetes and certain types of cancer.

“As a group, Veterans are at greater risk of being overweight than the general population,” explained Dr. Jose O. Aleman, an endocrinologist at the VA New York Harbor Healthcare System. “Nearly 80% of Veterans in the VA health system had overweight or obesity in 2014.”

Aleman continued: “Both at the local and national level, we found obesity pharmacotherapy is  effective in changing the trajectory of weight in Veterans in addition to lifestyle changes.”

Without a sustainable, healthy diet and exercise routine, current men and women across all branches have chosen to pop a pill or take regular injections to assist in their overall goal.

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