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ARLINGTON, Va. — The Pentagon’s top health official is blaming food in bigger portions, with more sugar and more fat, for a different kind of troop surge.

Dr. William Winkenwerder Jr., assistant secretary of Defense for Health Affairs, cited these factors for the increase in military waistlines.

About 62 percent of servicemembers surveyed in 2005 were overweight, up from about 51 percent in 1995, according to a recent survey conducted for the Defense Department.

The North Carolina research firm Research Triangle Institute International conducted the survey of more than 16,000 troops both inside and outside the United States, looking at health and lifestyle issues.

The survey also found that 45.1 percent of servicemembers under 20 were overweight, compared with 28.1 percent in 1995.

Dr. Robert Bray, of RTI International, called the trend “disturbing and troubling.”

Bray said the military is not immune to the weight problem that American society as a whole is battling.

Winkenwerder also noted the data may be skewed because some servicemembers counted as overweight may be overly muscular.

Nevertheless, the Defense Department is looking at all avenues to tackle the problem, he said.

Toward that end, Defense health officials will work with people running commissaries and food exchanges to address the issue, Winkenwerder said.

He would not say specifically if those efforts would include reducing the portions or fat content of food available to U.S. servicemembers.

The survey also found that 63.6 percent of servicemembers surveyed reporting feeling “some” or “a lot” of work-related stress. That number is about equal to the 62.6 percent of servicemembers surveyed who reported feeling the same amount of stress in 2002.

For the 2005 survey, about 44 percent of troops surveyed said they dealt with stress by eating something, while 29 percent said they had a drink to deal with stress, Winkenwerder said.

But the number of troops who say they turn to illicit drugs is very low, remaining constant at 5 percent of troops surveyed or fewer since 1988, Winkenwerder said.

He also said he was pleased “and even a little surprised” that the survey found that despite the added stress servicemembers face nowadays, about 66 percent of servicemembers surveyed said they are satisfied or very satisfied with their jobs.


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