The Navy has the unenviable honor of being the most obese branch of the U.S. military with an outstanding 22 percent of its Sailors being clinically obese, a Department of Defence (DoD) study has concluded.

Sailors, however, face strong competition from their Airmen and Soldier brethren. The Air Force came second with 18 percent and the Army a close third with 17 percent. The Marine Corps brought up the rear with an 8.3 percent. Interestingly, the Marine Corps led the way in back and knee injuries – as if they’re trying to make sure they aren’t up first on the obese scale.

The study utilised the Body Mass Index (BMI) system to determine who is or isn’t obese.

The Navy, however, might find some relief from the fact that it isn’t the only military branch to be facing obesity issues among its personnel. In 2018, a British Army report found that an outstanding approximately 18,000 British Soldiers (that accounts to about 22 percent of the total British Army) were not eligible for deployment because of physical and mental illnesses, with obesity being the primary reason behind the two conditions. And even the Spanish Foreign Legion, a supposedly elite outfit, has been having issues with overweight legionnaires.

Militaries around the world have been using the BMI system to determine the physical fitness and capacity of current and potential servicemen. The BMI system, however, isn’t the best indicator of combat effectiveness.

The BMI system has four categories: underweight (<18.5), normal weight (18.5-24.9), overweight (25-29.9), and obese (>30).

But a soldier with a high BMI score of 32, for example, may just have a lot of muscle and be as physically fit as a soldier with a 24 BMI score. On the other hand, a soldier with a 19 BMI score may just be tall and/or thin but may lack the extreme fitness required during combat operations.

Compounding to the deficiencies of the BMI system as an umpire of physical fitness for combat is a research on recruits conducted by the Greek Army that revealed that those with higher BMI scores performed poorer during running and pull-ups events but performed equally as well as those with lower BMI scores in swimming events. The researchers concluded that “low BMI seems to favour endurance, while an under average BMI would favour muscular fitness.”

Tactical fitness is a heartbreaking combination of strength and muscular and cardiovascular endurance. Systems that calculate body mass or body fat percentages can be widely inaccurate when it comes to the rigors of the field – where a little extra pounds of fat can go a long way when you’re suddenly on half-rations.