SHAW AIR FORCE BASE, S.C. — The national average for obese body mass index based off of data collected from 2011 to 2014 is estimated at 36.5 percent compared to 30.5 percent between 1999-2000, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Along with the increased risks for health conditions, a higher BMI can affect service members’ mission readiness.
Penny Hardin, 20th Aerospace Medicine Squadron Health Promotion program coordinator, said the Air Force average for obese BMI stands at 16.28 percent compared to last year at 15.71 percent with Shaw Air Force Base at 19.25 percent this year.
“BMI is a quick, easy way for people to see if their weight is appropriate for their height,” said Hardin.
A person’s index is determined by their weight in kilograms divided by the square of height in meters. Then the individual is compared to a chart to determine weight status based on their number, with below 18.5 being underweight, 18.5 to 24.9 being a healthy or normal weight, 25.0-29.9 being overweight, and 30.0 and above being obese.
A high index score may lead to an increased risk for health conditions including type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol and high blood pressure, heart disease, cancer, mental illnesses such as clinical depression and anxiety, and stroke.
“A high BMI can increase your risk for diseases, it’s going to affect your PT test and your readiness,” said Hardin. “If you have extra weight on you it might be more difficult to move, you might end up having knee, hip or lower-back issues.”
Not only can a high BMI contribute to declining health, it can also affect an Airman’s ability to stay fit to fight.
“It affects an Airman’s mission readiness,” said Lt. Col. David Eisenach, 20th AMDS commander. “If they’re putting on extra weight they might not be able to pass their PT test. There’s obviously going to be some health concerns, they might not be sleeping as well or they might be at increased risk for heart disease. Individually, they’re just not going to be ready for the fight. They’re not going to be as sharp and in tune when they’re trying to carry out the mission.”
Eisenach also said the rise in BMI rates is being considered a national security issue by some due to its potential effects on recruiting.
Individuals joining the military must maintain a healthy body weight, however, a study published in the U.S. National Library of Medicine suggests by 2030 51 percent of the population will be obese, narrowing down the portion of the eligible population.
Individuals can take steps to maintain their BMI such as maintaining a healthy diet, proper exercise and learning to manage stress.
“If your BMI is starting to increase and gets around 27, 28, start looking at what your lifestyle is,” Hardin recommended. “Are you eating appropriately? Are you following MyPlate.gov? Are you getting in those minutes of physical activity recommended by the CDC?”
To combat rising BMI rates, the 20th AMDS is currently working on aligning health providers with units to help identify health trends and provide education as well as coordinating with the 20th Force Support Squadron to place calorie counts on menus at on-base dining facilities.