Senior Army Figures have highlighted the growing crisis of obese military personnel in the British Armed Forces as they are forced to set up an ‘Obesity Working Group’ to combat ballooning battalions.
An article in Soldier Magazine, an MOD-funded publication for the British Army, said troops are now failing military training because of the poor quality of food being served in Army barracks and experts are needed look at how to boost fitness and improve soldiers’ knowledge of healthy eating, the Express reveals.
At least 32,000 troops have failed their basic fitness tests in the past three years, which is usually based on a short run which must be completed under a certain time as well as press ups and sit ups and a ‘TAB’ or ‘Tactical Advance to Battle’ wearing kit of a certain weight.
Soldiers used to be provided with food from Army canteens under a system where money was deducted directly from wages which encouraged them to eat meals provided by the catering corps and – if they were lucky – curries from the Gurkhas.
But with the ‘Pay as you Dine’ system, many squaddies are choosing to eat kebabs and pizza instead of the more nutritionally balanced food provided.
As well as being high in calories, fast food does not contain the right amount of protein and vitamins needed to maintain a healthy physique which is supposed to maintain the high levels of physical activity all troops undertake of at least four hour long sessions a week.
25,000 soldiers have been declared obese since 2010, with a senior warrant officer blaming the problem on the standard of food served in Army canteens which were contracted out to companies including Sodexo Defence who provide food at locations including Colchester Garrison PFI, Catterick in North Yorkshire and Windsor.
‘The launch of ‘Pay As You Dine’ in 62 restaurants and messes’, its website boasts, ‘brings an innovative, flexible and customer focused dining offer in new facilities which have a high street feel.’
But it seems that rather than plump for the Public Finance Initiative scheme, hungry troops are turning to the real high street for their evening meals.
WO1 Dan Roberts, an Army chef of more than 30 years, says that many troops have stopped using Army food and instead are eating “poorer and more expensive food”.
The Warrant Officer told Soldier Magazine he had recently attended a Sergeant majors’ convention at the Royal Military College Sandhurst, where rations were discussed.
He said: “One of my colleagues said personnel in his unit were failing courses due to under nourishment due to the Pay as you Dine.
“My personal view is the food on offer is essentially the same everywhere but standards vary a lot due to different contractors being used.
“Consequently fewer troops are using the mess facilities than they used to and those that don’t are often eating poorer and more expensive food.”
The highly experienced soldier concluded his letter to the magazine saying there should be a return to the old system where personnel were compelled to eat the better quality food.
Brigadier John Donnelly, Director of Army Personnel Services, responded to WO1 Roberts, admitting there is a problem with Army rations, adding that the W01 Robert’s letter highlights “a number of familiar inconsistencies with the current catering system”.
But he adds that the problem will only be addressed when “new food contracts are introduced in the next few years”.
A senior officer told the Daily Express, “If soldiers do not like what is being served up in canteens they will survive on a diet of chips and kebabs.
“The number of obese soldiers is increasing every year and we now have a big problem.”
And a former soldier told Breitbart London, “We had our own cook house when I was serving, and we had NO fat soldiers,” adding that his unit had separate dining facilities and backing up the warnings of WO1 Roberts.
Figures released by the MoD last year showed that more than 16,400 soldiers were found to be obese with a further 3,000 obese sailors and 5,570 RAF personnel.
An Army spokesperson said: “The quality of Army food is regulated by Government standards and personnel are provided with the option of three healthy and nutritionally balanced core meals every day.
“We work hard to ensure that our personnel are healthy and fit, and it is a condition of service that all personnel must undertake regular fitness tests.
“If soldiers fail a fitness test they are put on a targeted programme to help them back to the required levels.”