Why "Fat Servicemember" is Worth Cold, Hard Facts


A recent SpouseBuzz post sent the military spouse community into a whirlwind of controversy. The article, “Does Fat Spouse = Fat Servicemember” highlighted some opinions around the internet and a few interviews conducted by the author about the link between overweight spouses and overweight servicemembers.

I – and many other readers – thought the post unnecessarily pitted active duty servicemembers against spouses. I felt it lacked solid scientific research.

But it did bring up an important question about a possible heath and fitness connection between spouse and active duty member. So why not ask the question in a scientific manner: Do the health habits of a spouse affect the health habits of the active duty member?

Research has not been conducted in the military world on this topic; however, research like this has been conducted in the civilian world.

One researcher, Amy Gorin, created an experiment to see if a possible weight loss ripple effect may occur when one spouse participates in a “health intervention” such as participating in a health-focused support group or increasing her exercise time.

What they found is that the “behavioral weight loss treatment delivered to one spouse has a clinically significant impact on the measured weight of the untreated spouse”

Wait. What?  What does that mean?

Basically, Gorin and her team of researchers noticed that the “untreated” spouse lost weight without actively trying to. Another way to put this would be if a wife decided to participate in a health intervention, then the husband would most likely lose weight even though he wasn’t actively participating in the health intervention. Gorin refers to this weight loss, from the husband, as a ripple effect.

Since there is a positive health ripple effect in the civilian community, would this apply to the military community as well? And why isn’t the military conducting research in this area?

Instead of playing the unending counterproductive fat blame game, why not focus on research that may help our active duty members stay fit in our calorie dense, obesogenic environment (and dare I say military installations)?

Our military members do not live in a bubble and are affected by the same faux fast-food restaurants, sedentary lifestyle and high stress environment (maybe even more so) than our civilian counterparts do. Obviously the major difference from our civilian counterparts is that a certain level of fitness is non-negotiable for our active duty members to serve in the military.

It is ludicrous to believe that our active-duty members can maintain a certain level of fitness with ease. If it were simply a matter of calories in versus calories out and increasing the amount of exercise one participates then there would be no “obesity epidemic.” Gaining and losing weight is a complicated problem that has yet to be solved despite massive amounts of research over the past 20-plus years.

Keeping this in mind the military could potentially be missing out on a valuable resource for our active duty members: our military spouses.

How would our entire military environment change if spouses and family members were asked to participate in health movement? Would we have more health programs geared towards spouses, child-care available at base gyms, healthy fast-food options on base, a better selection of fruits and vegetables at our commissaries? Would Tricare see a decrease in medical bills?

Our military community NEEDS to ask these questions instead of pointing fingers and focusing on stereotypes.

Quite frankly, I don’t care if you’re a fat spouse or a thin spouse. Our entire country struggles with fat and defining what a healthy person looks like, so does that mean all the fat spouses in America are to blame for their husbands’ weight?

I learned a long time ago that health and fitness are independent of the number on the scale. Our military community needs to stop bickering over things that don’t matter (i.e. what a spouse wears to the commissary or does in her down time) and put all our passion and energy into possible solutions concerning our health.

Lana Simmons is a military spouse, mom to two active kiddos, NASM-CPT and Yoga Instructor at Goodfellow AFB.  She currently runs a boot-camp (Bad Mother Fitness) geared towards spouses, serves on the Goodfellow Combined Spouses Club Board, and is pursuing her Masters in Sport Psychology.  To learn more about her programs and health journey check her out on facebook or the web.

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