Active United States Army personnel have worse cardiovascular health than their civilian counterparts, according to new research by the American Heart Association (AHA).
For a June 18 study published in Journal of the American Heart Association, researchers compared the heart health of 263,000 active Army soldiers, age 17 to age 64, with a similar group of American civilians. Data for the former group was collected via 2012 heart examinations, while data for the latter group was pulled from the 2011-2012 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.
All subjects were measured across four criteria, including diabetes, body weight, blood pressure and current tobacco smoking. These represent four of seven critical health factors that are used to determine whether or not someone meets the AHA's definition of ideal cardiovascular health.
In conclusion, the researchers found that a greater number of soldiers were diabetic and tobacco smokers than civilians. Notably, blood pressure levels represented the most significant difference between the groups. Only 30 percent of soldiers reported ideal blood pressures, while 55 percent of civilians did.
These findings contradicted the researchers' initial assumptions, study author Loryana L. Vie, a member of the University of Philadelphia's Department of Psychology, said in a media release
“We had expected that the percentage of ideal weight in the Army group would have been much higher because of the fitness standards to get into the Army and the physical aspects of the job,” Vie said. “It is notable that we didn’t see the advantage we expected in the Army group, and it’s clear that both groups have a lot of room for improvement.”
The researchers call for policy and behavioral changes to promote better health among soldiers and civilians.
“It was surprising to find that Army personnel were less likely to have ideal cardiovascular health, especially due to higher blood pressure, compared to civilians of similar ages, "Darwin R. Labarthe, professor of preventive medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, said in the release. "Because recruits are screened to exclude high blood pressure and maintaining physical fitness is a major focus for the Army, we expected lower, not higher, blood pressure in the Army. ... Further analyses should address nutrition and physical activity, as well as possible effects of deployment experience. Ultimately, we need to help our soldiers become heart healthy."
The Army has been pilot-testing its new six-event fitness assessment since late 2018 and recently announced it is planning to launch an alternative assessment for soldiers who are permanently unable to complete the standard test.
The new test is expected to go into full effect in October 2020.
"The Army's changing things," Michael McGurk, director of Research & Analysis at the U.S. Army Center for Initial Military Training, told Club Industry in March 2018. "It's no longer, 'I'm going to join the Army and get in shape.' It's, 'I'm going to get in shape so I can join the Army.'"