Obesity: The Impact on Military Capability

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Thousands of British Troops are too Fat to be Deployed to Afghanistan, reveals leaked Army Memo.


Thousands of British troops cannot be sent to Afghanistan because they are too fat to fight, a leaked army memo revealed.

The war effort is being hampered by the number of front-line troops who are either obese or too unfit to be deployed to Helmand in the south of the country.

The news comes at a time when commanders are desperately fighting for more troops to be sent to the province to replace those who have been injured or killed.

According to the emergency memo, a ‘worrying trend of obesity’ is preventing soldiers from being deployed to the province.

It raises concerns that soldiers are failing to carry out the basic minimum of two hours physical exercise a week.

The document, obtained by the Observer, also warns that Britain’s ‘operational effectiveness’ is being undermined by low levels of fitness and raises concerns that lives could be lost because some soldiers are not fit enough to cope with the challenging conditions in Afghanistan.

‘The numbers of personnel unable to deploy and concerns about obesity throughout the army are clearly linked to current attitudes towards physical training,’ the memo from Major Brian Dupree of the army physical training corps in Wiltshire states.

He called for the army to ‘reinvigorate a warrior ethos and a culture of being fit’, concluding that it had ‘not consistently maintained our standards of physical fitness’.

To tackle the problem, the army is introducing a ‘body composition measurement’ in October to target overweight soldiers. It will also enforce a minimum of three physical training sessions a week.

The news comes as military commanders are demanding more British troops be sent to Afghanistan to protect ground recently gained from the Taliban in Operation Panther’s Claw.

An extra 125 troops have already been sent to replace those injured or killed in the offensive which has seen the highest number of British casualties since the conflict began.

There are currently 3,860 army personnel classified as PUD – personnel unable to deploy – with a further 8,190 classified as ‘of limited deployability’ for medical reasons. The MoD said it could not provide a breakdown of these figures.

The current army fitness policy states that to be fit to fight requires a minimum of two to three hours of physical activity per week.

In the memo, which is dated July 10, Major Dupree said: ‘It is clear that even this most basic policy is not being implemented.

‘To cope with the demands of hybrid operations in Afghanistan and future conflicts the army needs personnel with that battle-winning edge that sustains them through adversity. It is clear this message has been diluted recently and this attitude must change.

‘The increasing PUD list and concerns over obesity in the services are clearly linked to this indifferent attitude.’

Patrick Mercer, head of strategy at the Army Training & Recruiting Agency, said: ‘This lack of personal fitness is a disgraceful state of affairs. The army is desperately undermanned anyway and for obesity to be a problem is extraordinary.’

The memo comes three years after the army relaxed its rules to allow recruits with a higher body mass index (BMI) to join after research found that two thirds of British teenagers were too fat to meet fitness requirements.

Applicants with a BMI of 32 – two points above the World Health Organisation’s definition of obesity – can now enlist.


Ellicott, C. (2009) Thousands of British Troops are too Fat to be Deployed to Afghanistan, reveals leaked Army Memo. Available from World Wide Web: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1203794/Thousands-British-troops-fat-deployed-Afghanistan-reveals-leaked-Army-memo.html#ixzz2eIDRyWu9. [Accessed: 25 August, 2013].


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