Government and Regulations

Just How Healthy Are Soldiers?

Data from a recent study by the US Army suggest room for improvement for soldiers’ health.


Poor sleep, lack of activity, and unhealthy eating are associated with the top 5 challenges to a soldier’s personal readiness: medically nondeployable status, first-term attrition, obesity and nutrition, musculoskeletal injury, and fatigue. For instance, 1 night of less than 4 hours of sleep can impair a soldier’s performance as much as if they had a 0.10% blood-alcohol level.

Sleep, activity, and nutrition form the Performance Triad—all 3 elements are of equal importance to the Army. However, according to a Performance Triad pilot study, 99.6% of soldiers do not meet all target behaviors. The study also found 78,000 active duty soldiers are considered clinically obese and 180,000 have at least 1 musculoskeletal injury per year, which can prevent them from being deployable. As a result, about one third of newly accessioned soldiers do not complete their first term of enlistment.

The “Health of the Force Report” represents the Army’s first attempt to review, prioritize, and share best health practices. This report also allows leaders to track the health of the Army’s soldiers installation by installation. The Army says the 2015 report provides a snapshot, but the picture does not look great. Data from about 340,000 soldiers at 30 Army installations showed that only 15% of soldiers met the recommended target for sleep, 38% met the target for fitness, and 13% met the target for nutrition. In addition 17% of soldiers were not medically ready: 1,295 new injuries per 1,000 soldiers were diagnosed in 2014, 15% had a diagnosed behavioral health disorder, 14% had one or more chronic condition, 13% were classified as obese, 32% reported using tobacco, 10% had a sleep disorder, and 2% had a substance abuse disorder.

To better understand variation among the installations the Army will use the data to measure the presence or absence of health outcomes. Lt. Gen. Patricia Horoho, US Army Surgeon General and Commander, US Army Medical Command, says the goal is to compel leaders to improve the environment, infrastructure, and nutrition offerings of Army installations.

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