Five Ways Army Leaders Can Help Their Overweight Soldiers Lose Weight

Obesity is a huge problem in America that has already reached the ranks in the Army.  Look inside any Army Reserve or Army National Guard unit and you will quickly discover that 15% up to 40% of the unit is overweight and unable to pass the height/weight standards and/or APFT.  Obesity is a huge problem that really affects the readiness of the ARNG and USAR.

As a part-time Army leader, you have a HUGE challenge solving this issues, because you aren’t training with your Soldiers every day like the Active Duty Army does.  That being said, there are still a few things you can do to help your overweight Soldiers.  Here is what I recommend you do:

# 1 FLAG Your Overweight Soldiers

As a leader, you need to ensure your overweight soldiers are flagged.  I truly believe that FLAGGING them is taking care of them.  By doing so, you show them that you are serious about enforcing the Army Standards.  It also shows your overweight Soldiers that if they want to advance their career they need to get in shape and drop those excess pounds.  If you don’t do this, you show your Soldiers that being overweight and not meeting the Army standards really isn’t that big of a deal.

# 2 Educate Them

Consider giving your overweight Soldiers a class about losing weight and the side effects of being obese.   Bring in a doctor, personal trainer or weight loss expert to share some weight loss tips with them.  There is also a FIT-P program in most states that offer “wellness” and “weight loss” classes for overweight Soldiers.

# 3 Work with Them Personally

If you live within close proximity of your Soldiers you can do PT with them.   Consider starting a fitness group outside of drill weekend, where you all get together 1-2 days a week to exercise.  If that’s not possible, ask your Soldier if they want you to help them personally. Let them know that you are there for them.  Teach them what you know, come up with a weight loss challenge together, or do something creative.  It’s easier to lose weight when you have a support group.

# 4 Do PT during Drill Weekend

It amazes me how many ARNG and USAR units do not do PT during drill weekend.  As a small unit leader, you must incorporate physical fitness into every drill weekend.  SHOW your Soldiers that it is a top priority.  If the training calendar is full, do PT before or after drill weekend.  By doing so, you might encourage your overweight Soldiers to start exercising on their own even more.  And if nothing else, at least you are setting a good example during drill weekend.

# 5 Be Positive, Not Negative

Scientific studies have consistently showed that being negative does NOT help the person lose weight (source).  I think it would be in your best interest to be positive with your Soldiers.  By all means, hold your Soldiers accountable to the standards.  But when your Soldiers make progress and drop some weight, even if it is just one pound, congratulate them.  Tell them you are proud of them and are happy that they are making progress.  Look for ways to reinforce good behaviors and you will get more of them.

Final Thoughts

In summary, these are five simple ways that Army Leaders can help their overweight Soldiers lose weight. At the end of the day, you are very limited as an Army National Guard or Army Reserve leader, because you only train with your Soldiers a couple days each month.  The best thing that you can do is to (1) be a good personal example and stay in shape yourself, (2) educate your Soldiers about obesity and weight loss, (3) work with your overweight Soldiers personally, (4) do PT during drill weekend and (5) be positive, not negative.

What are your thoughts?  What do you do to help your overweight Soldiers lose weight?  Leave a comment and let us know.

chuck holmes

Chuck Holmes
Former Army Major (resigned)

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10 thoughts on “Five Ways Army Leaders Can Help Their Overweight Soldiers Lose Weight”

  1. If you weigh between 148 and 267 pounds as a male and 120 to 184 pounds as a female, then you are good to go. Otherwise, you will have to invest time and effort in losing weight to join the military. It is definitely not an easy task. But it is not impossible either. Briefly, you will need to: understand your body and set your goals, create a diet plan and stick to it, come up with a workout routine and commit to it.

  2. The point about being positive, not negative, is a good one. People always need to know that you care, and telling a person to lose weight, even though it is a job necessity, is going to be offensive unless you sound like you really care. (This is yet another reason why you need to be a good, caring leader in order to be effective.) That said, if being in shape is a job requirement, then by all means these people should be flagged if they cannot pass the APFT or the HT/WT requirements. The company commanders should be motivated to do it, especially when someone\’s life could ultimately depend on their comrade\’s physical fitness.

  3. Motivating overweight soldiers to lose weight is a health issue as well as an issue about standards. It\’s not about picking on them or singling them out per se, but letting them know that they are not representing the uniform and their duty as soldiers to the best of their ability. A fit and healthy soldier is more able to handle combat situations. Conditions in the field can be harsh and if you\’re not physically capable you put not only yourself, but your fellow soldiers at risk. A leader willing to work out with his soldiers lets them know \’hey, I\’m here too. I believe in you that much.\’

  4. I think, personally, that educating the Soldiers about the benefits of maintaining a healthy and consistent weight is crucial. But I don’t think that it should be tailored to just the overweight Soldiers, rather to everyone. Fitness should be something that EVERY Soldier strives to incorporate in their day-to-day training and preparation for the future. Personal trainers and working with them one-on-one is a great start but I think that an ongoing effort should also be a major point to include in this post.

  5. I think that the point you make about Flagging a Soldier and then helping them is an important point when we talk about ENFORCING the STANDARD and still TAKING CARE of your Soldiers. You are spot on that flagging through the formal process shows them you are serious and that their inability to meet the standard has negative consequences. But, because you take the personal attention to fix the issue shows that you are not using the flag as a “punishment” where you will probably only get negative responses.

    1. I also agree with Justin here, but wouldn’t it maybe a good move to give a warning before the flagging? A one chance warning may give that soldier enough encouragement to pound it and get in shape without the flagging.

      This is just my opinion; what are your thoughts?

      I must also mention that I do believe the Army was much stronger on this issue back when I was in (1980’s) and they have went somewhat downhill.

      1. Candace Ginestar

        Soldiers know the standard, I don’t think they need a warning. If they fail, they get flagged, end of story. I think the fact that they can’t get promoted or have anything good (awards, etc), should be motivation enough to not get flagged.

        1. You’d think the consequences would motivate troops. But lots of troops don’t get flagged when they fail the APFT or HT/WT. I never understood why, but a lot of Company Commanders don’t want to do it.

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