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SOLDIERS’ WEIGHT LOSS EFFORTS INCLUDE SOME UNHEALTHY STRATEGIES
U.S. Army looks at how some soldiers are trying to lose weight
While many Americans are concerned about weight control for health or appearance, some U.S. Army personnel have an added motivation to shed excess pounds. Carrying excess fat could result in a job loss. Unfortunately, the approaches some soldiers use to keep their weight in check may compromise both their overall health and their military preparedness. A study of weight loss strategies of American soldiers is being presented today at the American College of Sports Medicine’s 52nd Annual Meeting in Nashville, Tenn.
Researchers at the U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine in Natick, MA studied 1,435 soldiers (1,212 men and 223 women) who had been referred to Womack Army Medical Center, Fort Bragg, NC, for weight control counseling. The men were an average of 33 pounds heavier than the Army’s maximum weight-for-height guidelines, and the women were an average of 35 pounds over weight. Study participants completed a survey of their dieting practices.
While some soldiers had attempted to lose weight by reducing the amount of food they ate, increasing their physical activity, or adding more fruits and vegetables to their diet, other strategies tended to be less healthy. Some 71 percent of respondents reported skipping meals to reduce weight, and 31 percent reported fasting. Other weight loss methods included the use of ‘fat burner’ medication by 55 percent of those in the study. Thirty-six percent indicated the use of appetite suppressants, and 21 percent said they used laxatives to reduce weight. Another 55 percent admitted to using a rubber sauna suit.
Weight management is a significant issue in the Army. Researchers noted that in 2003 the Department of Defense separated more than 3,000 military personnel for failure to meet standards for body fat.
“The focus of the Army Weight Control Program is keeping people healthy and fit,” said Col. Gaston P. Bathalon, Ph.D., R.D. “A major concern is that some of the weight loss behaviors we identified in the study could negatively impact health as well as performance.”
Among primary factors contributing to weight gain among the soldiers were medical issues such as injury or illness that restricted activity, deployment, and change in duty station that resulted in less physical activity.
Bathalon explained that the study also gained insight into the types of resources soldiers identified that would be helpful to them in weight reduction and control. These included support such as structured gym workouts and sessions with a personal trainer or dietitian. Personal weight management workbooks, Internet and PDA-based programs, weight loss medications, having a weight loss partner, and the availability of more low-fat/low-calorie foods in dining facilities also were identified.
“There are certain weight loss tools that work well for some, but not all people trying to manage their body weight. We need to find or develop programs and tools that meet individual needs based on lifestyles and preferences,” said Bathalon.
According to Bathalon, the Army is collaborating with Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge, LA to develop a Web-based interactive weight reduction program that is designed specifically for Army personnel. “The program will be designed to address military standards, and focus on Army needs,” he said.
Bathalon said that about one-third of the soldiers who participated in the weight loss survey indicated they would be interested in using a Web-based weight loss program.