Beware The Many Temptations Of ‘The Ville’

Ft. Benning, Georgia is home to almost 120,000 troops including the storied 75th Ranger regiment. Within a mile of exiting the base and turning onto US interstate 280, you encounter your first fast-food restaurant- Wendy’s. Another few steps down the road is a Checkers, two Taco Bells, a Burger King, and a host of regional southern style quick-serve greasy spoon establishments. Scattered between the golden arches and the wire fryers full of freedom fries are a host of used car lots hawking hulking black trucks and fast Ford Mustangs. Within a 10 mi radius of the gate, there are 19 used car dealerships offering sleek steel sleds with veiled interest rates and “ez financing” for a newly enlisted soldier with no credit but a guaranteed government paycheck. Filling in the real estate between the restaurants, liquor stores, and used cars dealerships are a smattering of strip clubs, payday loan lenders, and liquor stores. Taken in aggregate, one set of businesses is designed to take a soldier’s wealth, the other- their health. Welcome to a strip of commerce found outside almost every military base known as “the Ville.”

Despite the food temptations of the “Ville”, physical health is one of the fundamentals of military life. In fact, good physical fitness is not only an entrance requirement for service, it is one of the key differences between civilian and military professions. At most commands, Physical Training (PT or working out) is a mandatory evolution. Service-wide there are minimum physical fitness standards that are enforced (Imagine if the employees of Facebook were forced to get up at 7 am and do 8 count bodybuilders) and tested on a regular basis.

Because of this culture, military members have better health habits than civilians, but unfortunately, overall long-term health outcomes for military members appear to be worse than the general population. Service members have higher rates of cancer and heart disease than their civilian counterparts.  This is especially surprising given their better access to healthcare.   There are several potential explanations for this, but two are directly related to military financial health.

Poor In Wealth Means Poor In Health Too

First, there is, sadly,  a long-standing correlation between health and income across the population. So despite having excellent medical care, by virtue of income alone, statistically speaking military members (and their families) are likely to have worse health outcomes than most affluent members of society.