A Ministry of Defence study found that 44.9 per cent were overweight and another 12.1 per cent were classed as obese or even heavier. According to The Daily Telegraph:
The report warned that the "current problem" could jeopardise health of servicemen and "reduce collective operational" effectiveness.
But the researchers urged caution saying that while army personnel were undoubtedly getting bigger they were not necessarily getting fatter and that "large and fit" soldiers were the ideal.
They said that there had been a deliberate change in army training which concentrated more on building muscle rather than endurance.
This would make them more capable of carrying heavy kit and still allow them to react quickly under fire.Nevertheless, worried about obesity in the civilian community where they draw their ranks, the army introduced a weight management programme in 2009. They then commissioned an Army Obesity Study.
As part of this drive, Major Paul Sanderson, an army physical trainer,was commissioned to carry out a PHD at the School of Sport, Exercise and Health sciences, at Loughborough University.
He analysed data from the Defence Analytical Services Agency which annually records the weight, height and waist size of nearly 50,000 soldiers, aged between 17 to 55. All but 3,500 were men.
Major Sanderson, who presented his findings at the European Congress on Obesity in Istanbul, found that 44.9 per cent of the men were overweight, which for a six foot man would be between 13st 1lb and 15st 10lbs.
For a 5ft 4in woman that is 10st 5lbs to 12st 5lbs
A further 12.1 per cent were even higher classing them as obese or severely obese.
The figures show that the British army is fast catching up with its American counterparts who have in the past been accused of being "too fat to fight".
The report concluded that while levels of obesity were lower than in the civilian population they were still a "problem".
"This information indicates that the prevalence of overweight and obesity is a current problem in the armed forces, and could increase individual health risk and reduce collective operational effectiveness," it read.
However Major Sanderson said he did not believe that the results showed that the army was becoming less fit.
He believed the figures did not take into account that muscle weighed more than fat and that the army was becoming better at its job.
He said even the overweight and obese had a very good pass rate when it came to the annual fitness test and only the "very, very obese" had a problem and they could be counted in single figures.
"We are getting bigger but we are also getting stronger," he said.
"Large and fit is the ideal person for us. They need to be able to carry a heavy load and be able to react to fire."
Army personnel have carefully managed fitness routines requiring them to carry out at least four hour-long sessions of physical training (PT) a week.
They also have a diet that can range from 1,500 calories a day to more than 7,000 depending on their demands and whether they are on desk or combat duty.
But Tam Fry, a board member of the National Obesity Forum who teaches the military about growth and obesity, questioned whether the extra weight of muscle could explain away the whole 57 per cent.
He said: "You can't play it down when we depend on our soldiers, sailors and airmen to be in proper shape so that they can defend us.
"If they are too fat to do it, we are headed down the wrong track."
- Source article, by Richard Alleyne, Daily Telegraph Sciience Correspondent: Half of British soldiers are obese or overweight