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NEWS | April 20, 2023

Learn the role of nutrition, physical activity in America’s war on obesity

By 2nd Lt. Ryan Doran U.S. Army-Baylor Master’s Program of Nutrition student, U.S. Army Medical Center of Excellence

The year 2023 is bringing many changes to body composition standards across the services. New policies will go into effect for the Marines, Air Force, and Army, as part of continuing efforts to increase military readiness.1–3

Many policy changes are focused on the growing concern of the American obesity epidemic. However, the latest Department of Defense Health of the Force Report found 21.6% of active-duty service members across the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines were obese.4

This is a concern for service members because becoming overweight or obese increases the chances of musculoskeletal injuries, non-availability, and are a contributing factor to a nearly 20% 2-year premature attrition rate across the DoD.5

The American obesity epidemic is reaching beyond servicemembers, the most recent National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey indicated that 19.7% of children aged 2-19 were found to be obese, and 41.9% for those aged 20 and older were obese.6

Obese children are more likely to be obese as an adult, and adult obesity has been linked to the leading causes of death (diabetes, heart disease, and some forms of cancers). Additionally, the obesity epidemic leaves only 2 in 5 young adults weight eligible and physically prepared for basic training - not including other limitations on qualification for service.7

As the American armed forces face recruiting and retention challenges, rates of overweight and obesity and specifically the health of American servicemembers and children should remain a central focus and everyone has a role, so what can we do about it?

Focus on nutrition8  

The Standard American Diet, or SAD, consists of foods higher in added sugars, saturated fats, and sodium. These foods are often processed and lead to increased inflammation - a leading cause of weight gain and precursor to a number of diseases (e.g., diabetes, high blood pressure, etc.).

Aim for a healthful and balanced diet

Service members and their families should aim for nutrient-dense whole foods (like fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grain bread, pasta and lean meats like skinless chicken and fish) and focus on choosing low or reduced-fat options (e.g., fat-free yogurt or milk, low-fat cheese), reduced sugar (avoid simple sugar beverages), and reduced sodium options (e.g., low salt or no salt seasonings).

One great way to meet these recommendations is by following the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s MyPlate. MyPlate is a visual tool that helps build your meals while providing recommendations and advice. For more information and to customize your plate, visit

Get moving and focus on being active9

Physical activity can be anything that gets you moving – and anything is better than nothing! Physical activity is good for brain health, weight management, it reduces the risk of disease and helps strengthen your bones and muscles.

Some ideas to get moving include: going for a walk, playing sports, or being active with your family (e.g., an outdoor game of hide and seek, jumping rope, throwing a ball or even hula hooping) are easy ways to move naturally.

For adults, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends muscle-strengthening activities two or more days a week with 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity (a brisk walk) or 75 minutes a week of vigorous-intensity activity (jogging or running).

Obesity is preventable. The fight begins with all of us at home by eating better and getting active.


1.  Department of the Navy. Forthcoming changes to the body composition program. MARADMINS 423/22. Published August 8, 2022. Accessed March 15, 2023.,validated%20by%20a%20unit%20representative.

2.  Secretary of the Air Force Public Affairs. Department of the Air Force outlines new body composition program for Airmen, Guardians. Department of the Air Force. Published January 9, 2023. Accessed March 15, 2023.

3.  Association of the United States Army. Proposed changes to army tape test being reviewed. AUSA. Published March 13, 2023. Accessed March 15, 2023.

4.  Defense Health Agency. Health of the force 2021. Department of Defense. Published February, 2022. Accessed 15 March, 2023.

5. Department of the Army. The U.S. Army’s system for enhancing soldier readiness and lethality in the 21st century. Department of the Army. Published October 1, 2020. Accessed March 15, 2023.

6.  Stierman B, Afful J, Carroll M, et al. NHSR 158: National health and nutrition examination survey 2017–March 2020 pre-pandemic data files. National Center for Health Statistics (U.S.); 2021. doi:10.15620/cdc:106273

7.  Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Overweight & obesity. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Published September 27, 2022. Accessed March 15, 2023.

8.  US Department of Agriculture and US Department of Health and Human Services. Dietary guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025. 9. Published December, 2020. Accessed March 15, 2023.

9.  Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Physical activity. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Published January 19, 2023. Accessed March 15, 2023.