Excess Weight Weighing Down Canada’s Forces?

This morning, I am presenting a plenary talk on obesity at the 2011 Canadian Military and Veteran Health Research Forum, here in Kingston, Ontario.

In preparation for my talk, i took an in-depth look at the 2008/09 results from the Health and Lifestyle Information Survey of Canadian Forces (CF) Personnel.

According to this report, obesity rates in CF personnel increased from 20.5% in 2004 to 23.5 in 2008/2009 – a rate not remarkably different from Canada’s overall population. In fact, based on BMI, over 70% of CF personnel were either overweight or obese. Obesity rates were higher among males (25%) than females (17%).

Obese CF personnel reported significantly poorer health, were more likely to have one or more chronic co-morbid condition were about 50% less likely to be able to deploy than non-obese personnel.

While obese CF personnel reported eating fewer servings of vegetables and fruit, energy expenditure through physical activity was surprisingly similar for non-obese and obese personnel.

The top 3 actions which CF personnel believed would improve their health and well being were to exercise more or start to exercise, improve their diet, and lose weight. Intent to make that change for all 3 actions was over 90%. Surprisingly perhaps, less than 20% thought that access to additional nutrition information would increase their ability to lose/gain weight.

In my talk I highlight the need for a better understanding of the underlying reasons for weight gain in AF personnel – although it is likely that high-stress levels, mental health problems, and other root drivers of weight gain or barriers to weight management are probably as (if not more) prevalent amongst AF personnel, these relationships were by no means clear from the report.

At least it would probably be fair to believe that simplistic ‘Eat-Less-Move-More’ (ELMM) approaches to weight management will likely be as ineffective for AF-personnel as for anyone else.

Rather, the solutions will likely be as complex and require the same dedicated resources as for non AF personnel.

Kingston, Ontario