Half of Czech Army overweight

Le ministre de la Défense, Martin Barták (à gauche), photo: Ivana Drábková

A new study has raised serious questions about diet and fitness in the Czech military after revealing that half of the army’s 22,000 soldiers are overweight. The alarming result means the military will introduce a low-fat diet, likely boost fitness testing and provide troops with fat-fighting pills. The last measure, though, has come under criticism – with many experts suggesting that medicine should only be used as a last resort.

The Czech Army cannot be happy over the recent results showing that every second soldier is overweight and one in seven, obese. The findings mean that over a six-month period the military will strive to shed the extra kilos, enforcing a new low-fat diet and providing overweight personnel with fat-burning pills. It didn’t take long, though, for the latter to stir controversy, with some experts suggesting the army’s focus on medicine “over fitness” is misplaced. General Jiří Šedivý, the former head of the General Staff of the Armed Forces is one of the critics:

“Treating obese soldiers with pills is a bit extravagant: if someone needs to lose weight, then they need to run and exercise more to lose the extra kilos. These are regular methods that were used in the past. Simply: those who suffer from weight problems have to work a lot harder to stay in shape. And those who suffer illness due to obesity shouldn’t be in army in the first place.”

Since then, the army has countered that pills will only be the “last line of defence”. Dr Pavol Hlubík, of the Faculty of Military Health Sciences at the University of Defence in Hradec Králové, makes clear that fat-busting drugs are not the most important facet.

“Pharmaceuticals are not the first step under any circumstances. And there is no pink, blue or green pill that will help you lose 10 kilograms by morning.”

Nutritionists, like Monika Divišová, the head of a Prague-based diet and wellness clinic, agree. In her experience, only an emphasis on exercise and especially a healthy diet help bring about lasting change.

“In 12 years of experience of coaching people in healthy weight management I have seen many, many cases where we increased exercise and changed the diet a bit. If you get rid of the main foods with empty calories, increase water intake, vegetables and fibre, people start to lose weight. In my opinion, medication is for really obese people or for those who really fail in their lifestyle choices.”

Until now, soldiers in the Czech Army, for example under the age of 30, have been required to take two fitness exams annually, requiring a minimum of 22 push-ups, eight sit-ups and a timed 2.6 kilometre run. Clearly such requirements, though, are not enough if half the military is to get back in shape and avoid mirroring broader Czech society. According to statistics, every third adult in the country is overweight.