Published on December 13th, 2012 | by Brian Gendron
Drop and give me 200!
U.S. soldiers are being discharged from the military for being obese. Fear not, psychology is here. In fact, thousands have been kicked out for being too overweight and failing physical fitness tests.
This surprised me, given my previously held framework of our army as this:
And this [explicit language]:
Not usually this:
In other news, North Korea is gearing up to fire missiles that can go really far. That’s just scary, which only decreases my preference for that last example. On a side note, I really think a movie where Fat Bastard fights in the army would do well at the box office.
Nevertheless, the fact that there are a number of overweight soldiers is concerning. Being in the armed forces is already enough to put you at risk for some significant health problems, including psychological disorder. According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, a huge chunk of our soldiers access mental health services within a year of returning home from active duty, and many are formally diagnosed with a clinical disorder.
Obesity is a significant correlate to one of the most common mental health problems, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Combine obesity with military service, and it doesn’t look good when it comes to the health of these soldiers. One study from 2006 found that our veterans have a much higher rate of obesity than the average American. Whether obesity is a predictor or an outcome of PTSD, the two are both associated with less than favorable outcomes.
Fortunately, there are scientists actively working to help our soldiers increase both their physical and psychological health. Martin Seligman, Professor of Psychology at University of Pennsylvania, is one leader in an approach known as Positive Psychology, which emphasizes preventing health issues before they arise by building psychological resilience. Research has demonstrated that happiness is at least partly determined by positive thinking, and now psychologists are applying this model to our soldiers.
Seligman and other researchers have responded to the issue of obesity in the armed forces with the Comprehensive Soldier Fitness (CSF) program. CSF combines physical fitness with activities to strengthen mental resilience. This ‘toughening of the mind’ is critical in a context as rigorous as the military. CSF also emphasizes the importance of teaching military leaders to better train their subordinates in areas of mental health.
Although helmet cams and YouTube are bringing us a better picture of what it’s really like to be a soldier, in actuality these people are faced with unique circumstances. Positive psychology may be the approach best suited for preventing health issues among our military, and perhaps especially among our overweight soldiers. In fact, strengthening the psyche and working to prevent problems before they occur is important for all of us.
Hopefully the future of our country has a little more of this: