Fatter and more fatigued. That's the picture of U.S. troops painted by a new report from the RAND Corporation. The survey of about 18,000 military members across all service branches finds physical fitness and sleep are two of the biggest issues. Across all branches, nearly 66 percent of those surveyed are considered overweight or obese, based on the military's body mass index standard. The findings echo concerns voiced earlier this year by military leaders about the physical fitness of young recruits.
When it comes to sleep, a majority of those surveyed could use more. In particular, 59 percent of soldiers said they get less sleep than needed, and nearly 1-in-10 among all branches report taking sleep medications on a regular basis.
Dr. Sarah Meadows, senior sociologist with RAND, isn't necessarily surprised at the report's findings. "If you talk to service members from prior eras and currently, they will tell you that lack of sleep, problems with sleep, inability to get sleep...those are all problems that don't seem to be new," she says. "Some of it just has to do with the fact that (service members) are often working long hours at different times of the day."
As for the weight issue, Dr. Meadows points out that the body mass index (BMI) standard doesn't necessarily tell the whole story, because it doesn't distinguish between fat and muscle, and doesn't measure physical ability. "For the actual physical fitness part, you have to run, do pull ups, do sit ups, and maybe some other things depending on what your job is," she says. "It's quite possible that you could have somebody who is very muscular and can meet all the physical demands of his or her job in the military, but still have a BMI that is in the overweight category."