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Diabetes and Obesity Jump in the U.S. Military

New surveillance data from the U.S. Defense Health Agency tells us that the pandemic brought a large jump in diabetes, obesity, and eating disorders in the military. Between 2018 and 2021, the prevalence of obesity rose from 16 percent to 19 percent. The incidence of type 2 diabetes jumped by 25 percent and new cases of prediabetes were up even more – 30 percent. Over a slightly longer time, 2017 through 2021, the agency recorded a 79 percent increase in the rate of eating disorder diagnoses.

A Response to Heightened Stress

Endocrinologist Amy Rothberg told the Associated Press these findings are not really surprising:

“Why would we think the military is any different than a person who is not in the military? Under stress, we want to store calories.”

The agency’s report on eating disorders offers a similar perspective:

“While the impact of COVID-19 on eating disorders should not be downplayed, it is more likely that psychosocial stressors of a pandemic, including social isolation, disruption of daily routines, and food insecurity, compounded by military life, resulted in increased eating disorder burdens.

“These findings reveal the need for prevention and treatment of eating disorders to reduce their unique burden among military members.”

National Security Implications

With these findings we also have another reminder to look beyond food systems as the primary driver for obesity and related health issues. Lee Kaplan argues that chronic stress may be the single most common cause. Overlooking that perspective may take a substantial toll on military readiness and national security. Already, the endemic prevalence of obesity is making it very hard to meet military recruiting goals.

Click here for the reports from the Defense Health Agency and here for further perspective.

United States Army Skill Badges, Army photograph / Wikimedia Commons

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April 15, 2023