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Eating Disorders Among Active Duty Military Personnel

image - military helmet - Eating Disorders Among Active-Duty Military Personnel

The United States has one of the best militaries in the world, with just over 1.34 million active-duty men and women in 2017. While these men and women are prepared to meet any threats or challenges that face our country, many of us are unaware of the mental challenges they face.

How prevalent are eating disorders among military personnel?

One of the mental health challenges facing military personnel is eating disorders. According to the National Guard Association of the United States (NGAUS), the diagnosis of eating disorders rose 26% over five years. Similar studies have shown that there are elevated rates of eating disorders among the nation’s active-duty military members. In particular, the disease appears at higher proportions for women who are enlisted for active duty in the military. In all of the armed forces, more women than men are diagnosed with diseases like anorexia, bulimia and binge eating. More than two-thirds of cases involved female troops and the overall incidence rate among women was more than 11 times that of males. Interestingly, the overall incidence rate of eating disorders among female Marine Corps members was near twice the amount when compared to women in the Army. For male active duty service members, the rates were highest in the Army and Marines.

Whiled eating disorders such are anorexia are more obvious with significant weight loss, other disorders are less dramatic. Cases of bulimia, which is the act of purging calories through means such as vomiting or use of laxatives, account for nearly 42% of eating disorder cases. Over 46% of eating disorders are classified as “other,” which includes binge eating disorder.

There is no one reason for the cause of eating disorders among military personnel, but experts point to the exposure to trauma, as well as the need to routinely meet physical fitness and body weight requirements. The military requires personnel to meet specific body mass and other physical fitness standards to not only enlist but to maintain. Additionally, the eating habits of military personnel can also be a factor. Ready-to-eat, calorie-dense meals, and high-calorie comfort foods can lead to weight gain and eating disordered behavior. Under policies directed by they Department of Defense, individuals with a diagnosed eating disorder lasting longer than three months are medically disqualified for accession into military service and could be medically released from active duty personnel.

How can eating disorders be treated?

The need for prevention and treatment of military members and their families suffering from eating disorders has not been unnoticed. The U.S. Department of Defense’s Peer-Reviewed Medical Research Program (PRMRP) has allocated funding for eating disorders research, intervention, and treatment programs. Congress first made the topic of eating disorders eligible for funding in 2017. In 2018 Congress allocated $5 million towards the prevention and treatment of eating disorders. However, federal funding for research on eating disorders is limited, with only $0.93 per person affected by eating disorders compared to other diseases such as autism receiving $44 per person affected. To complicate matters, there is still a stigma surrounding the reporting of diseases such as eating disorders. Members of the Armed Forces are less likely to seek treatment, making prevention programs and access to treatment an imperative need across all branches. The occurrence of these diseases may be much greater among active-duty military members.

At the Toledo Center for Eating Disorders, we offer an adult intensive residential program for men and women suffering from eating disorder. Our evidence-based care helps individuals process the underlying issues related to their eating disorder. For individuals suffering from a co-occurring disorder, such as trauma, it is vital to receive comprehensive treatment for both disorders. Our treatment team works with clients and their families to customize a place to meet the specific needs of the clients. Clients are able to learn and practice adaptive grounding skills and identify their patterns of reactions due to their trauma to help them feel safe and understand their disorder.

If you or a loved one is suffering from an eating disorder or a dual diagnosis, we encourage you to call Toledo Center today or complete our contact form. Our comprehensive treatment program offers interventions that contribute to overall health and wellness, and a successful recovery.

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