Soldiers Are Overweight, the Brass Is to Blame

More soldiers are more obese than ever before. Why? Because they are fed junk. Here’s what the top brass can do.


Soldiers are given too many fattening food choices.

When I was in the fifth and sixth grade, we lived on a U.S. Army base.

I still remember going to the “commissary” (grocery store) and buying MREs. For us kids, the MRE was an exotic treat — which is not to say they tasted good.

The name stands for “meals, ready to eat,” and MREs are the individual rations the Army issues to troops when they are deployed where they have no mess hall. They are packaged in an indestructible form of plastic and taste of not much at all.

The recipes have been updated since I was a kid in the 1980s. Here’s what one grunt (usmcgrunt33) says about today’s MREs:


“Horrible! When you live in the field and live off them they are “horrible”. Just the smell of one now a days would make me throw up.”


The MRE may be the most iconic military food item, but most soldiers eat most meals at a dining facility, sort of a military version of a university dining hall.

There were more than three times more overweight or obese soldiers  in 2010 than a decade earlier. This year alone, the Army discharged 1,625 obese soldiers and overweight ones. That’s 15 times more than in 2007.

If there are obese soldiers, it must have something to do with what they eat. So, let’s take a closer look at those dining halls.


Eat All That You Can Eat

“Be all that you can be,” used to be the Army’s slogan. Now, it might as well be, “Eat all that you can eat.”

Today’s dining facilities do offer healthy options, but the emphasis seems to be on reproducing the worst of the standard American civilian diet – in vast quantities.

Here’s what you can find at a typical dining facility, according to military writer Rod Powers:

  • A traditional meal with two or more entrees.
  • Fast-food burgers, sandwiches, hot dogs, french fries, fried chicken.
  • For dessert you have a huge range of choice. Take your pick of several styles and flavors of pudding, cake, ice cream, jello, pies, and more.
  • For breakfast, you can choose anything from a small fruit cup to a full-fledged made-to-order omelet with all the side dishes.
  • Carry-out containers are usually provided.
  • Some even have drive-through windows.

Said One Marine Corps chef with 12 years of experience:

“The amount of pizza and chicken nuggets that we go through is ridiculous. I think that those foods should be a special meal. You shouldn’t really offer fried food every single day. I look at these kids, and they’re big boys, and they’re getting nuggets over here and pizza over there and cake over here and soda over there. As much as they want, I might add, and it’s sad.”

It’s no wonder that there are so many obese soldiers.

Instead of preparing the troops for battle with the enemy, the dining halls are preparing them for a lifetime battle with heart disease, diabetes and cancer.

There is a real tragedy here, and it’s not that the troops are losing their battle readiness along with their youthful figures.

The real tragedy is that our nation entrusts its young men and women to the Army. Then the Army ignores its responsibility to take care of them.

In part because of the food options they are provided and encouraged to eat, many of them leave the Army less healthy and with worse habits than when they joined up.

(Yes, everyone has final responsibility for the food they put in their own mouth, but in a hierarchical organization like the military, an awful lot depends on decisions made by those in charge.)

The old stereotype is of the troubled kid who joins the service, learns discipline and then goes onto a better life.

The new reality is of the kid who joins the service and –instead of discipline– learns he opposite. He learns to overeat unhealthy foods and goes on to a lifetime of poor health.


Marines Are Still Just Human

Soldiers are just human. They have the same problem as the rest of us: if they eat too many calories, they pack on the pounds.

Here’s a suggestion for the military top brass who are wringing their hands at the state of their soldiery:

The military should provide nutritional education to its soldiers, and to the contractors who cook the majority of the Army’s meals.

I know this will be a hard change of mindset for the military. After all, this is the organization that invented both the “indestructible sandwich” and the dehydrated meal that you just need to pee on before eating.

Even so, if a grocery store chain can provide Wellness Clubs at its stores, surely the generals can find some money in their $664.84-billion budget to do the same. They might well earn it back in reduced health care costs and increased performance.

Oh, and maybe they could cut back on some of those desserts and fried foods.


What You Can Do Today

If you are having trouble losing weight, it might be time to sign up for your own dietary bootcamp.

Give up for one month all the fried foods and desserts the military shouldn’t be feeding its soldiers. If you get a craving for sweets, instead of processed foods with added white flour and sugar, just eat fruit, and a limited number of Rip Esselstyn’s whole food desserts, like these:

Date-nut fruit pie

Chocolate icebox pie

Blueberry dumpster cobbler

Fruit mousse

Free Resources:

Free Worksheet: Calculate Your Body Mass Index
Free Daily Food Log: Help Yourself Eat Better and Lose Weight
Free E-Newsletter: Stay Motivated, Keep Learning
Free Weigh Loss Quote of the Day or Quote of the Week: Get Inspired Again, and Again, and Again...

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