Lose weight or rank: Indian army takes tough stance on obesity among troops

© Adnan Abidi
Too many soldiers are overweight and look “slovenly” in their uniforms, India’s military leadership said, when unleashing a tough war on obesity. From now on, puffy servicemen must lose weight and become fit, or miss out on promotions.

“This issue has serious ramifications not only affecting combat readiness but also leading to avoidable ailments,” reads an internal note circulated within the Indian Army, according to the Economic Times. 

Army commanders believe the rising obesity problem results in “reduced life span in addition to public embarrassment due to slovenly appearance in uniform.”

All officers and soldiers in the Indian Army, the third-largest in the world with over 1.3 million troops, will undergo an annual “obesity evaluation examination,” the circular said, adding that success or failure might affect chances for promotion.

If soldiers “appear to be overweight,” a set of photographs will be attached to their evaluation files, the newspaper reported.

Supervising officers have been told to report servicemen with Body Mass Indexes (BMI) more than 10 percent above the army’s ideal to headquarters.

The case files will be compiled in confidential annual reports that are to be distributed among the army’s medical divisions for examination.

Overweight personnel failing to become fit would be banned from overseas postings, career training, and even re-employment prospects in big Indian cities.

According to the Economic Times’ military sources, the crackdown on obesity was initiated by General Dalbir Singh, the current Chief of Army Staff, who reportedly runs 10 kilometer daily and is known for being exceptionally fit.

The obesity problem is not confined to the Indian military, however, as it is known to afflict armed forces around the world. The Pentagon recalibrated fitness standards earlier in August, as obesity rates have soared among active-duty personnel from 1.6 percent in 2001 to 5.3 percent in 2010.

The new “body composition rules” are intended to set a minimum baseline standard across the entire US military, while letting the individual branches – the Army, Air Force, Navy, and the Marine Corps – set their own, more stringent standards.

In 2014, the British armed forces declared that some of its soldiers were “too fat to fight,” with over 22,000 purportedly overweight and at increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease.

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