Since the start of the Iraq War in 2003 the number of overweight and obese US military has doubled, in keeping with the national trend but also due to the stress of deployment, a Pentagon study said.
"In the past decade among active military members in general, the percent of military members who experienced medical encounters for overweight/obesity has steadily increased; and since 2003, rates of increase have generally accelerated," said the report published in January.
In 1998, the number of military personnel diagnosed overweight or obese stood at 25,652, or 1.6 percent of the entire armed forces. In 2003, it increased to 34,333 (2.1 percent), and from then to 2008 the number doubled to 68,786 (4.4 percent of the total).
A 2005 poll of the US military established that "stress and return from deployment were the most frequently cited reasons for recent weight gain," the report said.
The US military has shown signs of overall exhaustion after years of deployment in Iraq and Afghanistan.
And beside weight gain, the US Army has seen a sharp increase in suicides that hit a record 143 in 2008, compared to 115 the year before.
The weight increase of US servicemen and women reflects the weight-gaining tendency of the general US population, where 20 percent of 18- to 34-year-olds are considered obese.
As with the civilian population, the rise in obesity among the military is largely blamed on fast food and physically passive recreational activities including videogames, television and movies, the study said.
"Overweight/obesity is a significant military medical concern because it is associated with decreased military operational effectiveness and both acute and chronic adverse health effects," the Pentagon report said.