We shouldn't be punishing overweight but effective troops

Sunday, February 6, 2011; 8:16 PM

The Feb. 1 Health and Science article "Battle of the bulge" suggested that the military needs to change the way it treats those who are overweight. The article featured troops with years of valuable training and experience who passed the athletic measures of their service's fitness standards. These troops are not so fat that they can't do their jobs. But they face discharge because of a bigger waistline than a thinner person with a similar passing grade.

In 2009, the Defense Department reported that the percentage of overweight service members had more than doubled since 2003. The rate had remained flat in the preceding five years. The military knows that similar upticks for suicide, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder are in part caused by the stress of repeated deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. In an effort to curb suicides, the military has worked hard to eliminate the stigma and the negative administrative actions against troops who seek mental health treatment.

It's likely that the same deployment stress contributes to weight gain. Yet the military solution to obesity is as unenlightened as the mental health policy was a few years ago. Overweight troops face punitive administrative measures, including getting kicked out of the military, as "incentives" to get thin. These incentives are similar to how the military treats petty criminals and troublemakers: Punish them and get rid of them if they don't reform.

The military needs a system to help our troops get thin and healthy while not punishing them in the process.

Tim Crowe, Woodbridge

The writer is a major in the U.S. Army.

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