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The Marine Corps’ relentless attention to physical appearance results in Marines turning to unhealthy and dangerous eating disorders at nearly double the rate of other service members, according to a new report from the RAND Corporation.

The 106-page report released last Friday says the Marine Corps “places more emphasis on maintaining personal appearance” than other services, and that its requirements for building muscle mass are “at odds with policy of the Marine Corps encouraging a ‘skinny and trim’ Marine. In order to meet these standards, the RAND report states that Marines “engage in unhealthy eating disorder behaviors.”

“Marines are being diagnosed with eating disorders at higher rates than other service members, and female Marines in particular are being diagnosed more than others,” according to the report, which states that Marines are being diagnosed “ at almost twice the rate of other services”. Female Marines are at increased risk and have the highest diagnosis rate “across all departments and groups.”

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U.S. Marine recruits with Lima Company, 3rd Recruit Training Battalion, wait in groups to run during a Combat Readiness Test (CFT) at Marine Corps Recruit Depot, San Diego, Sept. 24, 2021 (US Marine Corps/Cpl. Grace J. Kinship)

1st Lt. Phillip Parker, spokesman for the Marine Corps Training and Education Command, said Wednesday the service is aware of the report and is “currently reviewing” its findings and recommendations. He noted that the Marine Corps studied its body composition program since 2021, which Parker says is “the most comprehensive, technologically advanced analysis of body composition standards we’ve conducted since the 1980s.”

Although the RAND report focuses on the Marine Corps, they are not the only service whose troops suffer from eating disorders and eating disorders, which are harmful habits that can lay the groundwork for unrest. diet but do not yet meet the medical criteria for a diagnosis. The Army is also studying its body composition standards, which are similar to Marine Corps standards in many ways.

In the case of eating disorders specifically, however, the Pentagon does little to understand the problem, despite data suggesting that eating disorders can have serious long-term health consequences. such as infertility, cognitive impairment, skeletal problems and even higher risk of suicide and mortality.

Studies of eating disorders and their impacts on the military “have been relatively sparse” compared to research on the civilian population, the RAND report says. Due to the lack of information, it’s likely that reported rates among services “significantly underestimate” how common it is.

The Marine Corps has an eating disorder problem
U.S. Marines with the 1st Battalion, 12th Marines, 3rd Marine Division, and soldiers from the 25th Infantry Division stand in formation during an awards ceremony at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, February 4, 2022 (US Marine Corps/Sgt. Melanye Martinez)

“While diagnoses are rare, eating disorders are among the most common and easily hidden mental health issues, and the military lifestyle and culture lends itself to hiding risky behaviors,” says the RAND report. “Additionally, a service member may be separated from service for an eating disorder diagnosis if the illness does not respond to treatment…The stigma associated with eating disorders, as well as the expectation that they primarily affect women, potentially serves to distract attention from the phenomenon or mask its existence among the military.

According to the report, the correlation between career advancement and body measurements is also an important issue, which “codifies the idea that appearance and form can determine personal worth.” An Army major who spoke to Task & Purpose last August also lambasted the idea that “so many people’s reputations rest on these silly height and weight tests”.

The Marine Corps Body Composition Policy directly ties a Marine’s appearance to their ability to do their job: “Put simply, the policy says“Marines who do not present a proper military appearance do not possess the qualities necessary to effectively lead the Marines.”

Body composition standards ensure Marines “present ‘appropriate military appearance'” and meet service fitness standards, the RAND report says, but these standards “use outdated data” and “do not reflect the current population.” of the Marine Corps”.

The Marine Corps has an eating disorder problem
U.S. Marine Corps Gunnery Sgt. Devon M. McNeil, the headquarters and support battalion administrative chief, performs a low crawl during the Combat Readiness Test at Camp Foster, Okinawa, Japan, Nov. 25, 2020. (US Marine Corps/Cpl. Brennan J. Beauton)

For example, the military often uses body mass index, or BMI, as an indicator of health, but experts say BMI is an outdated and inaccurate way to measure a person’s health. BMI is “a flawed tool” that “cannot differentiate fat from muscle mass,” according to RAND, which is problematic for Marines with fitness standards pushing them to build muscle.

Indeed, while Marine Corps fitness standards have evolved over time, body composition standards have not, RAND said, which in turn may cause Marines “to engage in unhealthy behaviors to comply with the policy”. But it’s not just height and weight standards that can lead to unhealthy habits; unique culture and experiences in the military can create a “perfect storm” for eating disorders, Katrina Velasquez, policy manager for the Eating Disorders Coalition, told Task & Purpose in August 2021.

Post-traumatic stress disorder resulting from military combat or sexual trauma, pressure to look like a good soldier or Marine and being weighed in front of peers are all factors which can lead to poor eating habits.

“PTSD, military sexual trauma and eating disorders go together so well, unfortunately,” said Dr. Jillian Lampert, strategy manager for the Emily Program and the Veritas Collaborative, which focus on eating disorders. ‘food. “That’s why we think we’re seeing a higher prevalence, and eating disorder diagnoses seem to be increasing over the last five years or so.”

The Marine Corps has an eating disorder problem
US Marine Sgt. Andrew Hodgkins, platoon leader with 2d Platoon, Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 2d Marine Regiment attempts to receive communications with higher command while on a security patrol in Washir District, Helmand Province, Washi Afghanistan, September 29, 2014. (US Marine Corps/ Corporal John A. Martinez Jr. / Released)

Military veterans with disordered eating habits “reported higher rates of depression and PTSD than their peers,” according to the report, which states that female veterans diagnosed with PTSD were “nearly five times more likely” to have anorexia. A 2009 study showed that 30 to 40 percent of female veterans seeking treatment for military sexual trauma had “some form of disordered eating behavior,” according to RAND.

Other factors that cause eating disorders include the type of meals that food service members eat, especially in deployed or field environments, as well as life experiences or childhood experiences. unfavorable. The report also says that people already struggling with eating disorders might choose to join the military because the culture “provides a way to hide risky behaviors while posing as invulnerable.”

Some Marines may adopt unhealthy eating habits due to their own leadership, according to the RAND report. Superiors are “often not aware or thoughtful” of how their words can affect their subordinates, the report says, but “the words and norms that female service members are repeatedly exposed to” could have serious lasting effects.

Ultimately, for an institution that puts health and fitness on a pedestal like the military does, making it a core value instilled in its members, the military doesn’t know enough about how whose eating disorders and eating disorders are hurting his troops.

The Marine Corps has an eating disorder problem
United States Marine Corporal. Armondo Cortez(left), a data networking specialist, and Cpl. Estevan D. Hernandez (right), a switchboard and personal computer intermediate repairman, with Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, discuss their plan for the deconstruction of the Command Operations Center during the demotion of Patrol Base Boldak in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, Aug. 14, 2014. The sanitization and closure of Patrol Base Boldak allows Charlie Company to continue operations aboard the Bastion- Leatherneck. (Official US Marine Corps Photo by Cpl. John A. Martinez Jr. / Released)

One of the ways RAND suggests the Marine Corps can begin to learn more about this issue is to take a closer look at Marines who are exceed height and weight, not just those who are not. Data on Marines who are at risk of falling short of the norm will likely show unhealthy behaviors as they try to “gain weight”. But Marines who are into politics might as well have the same unhealthy habits, while not being subjected to the same scrutiny.

“In fact,” the RAND report states, “because the service rewards and praises peak physical fitness and appearance, Marines who develop and maintain risky behaviors to comply with policy and standards do not not only hide these behaviors and the potential impacts they bring, but they can be worryingly seen as model Marines.

Ultimately, RAND urged the Marine Corps to suspend its height and weight requirements while it reviews their recommendations, which includes reassessing whether height and weight “are still necessary requirements” and to change the wording of its policies that tie physical appearance to Marines. leadership and character.

RAND also suggested that the Marine Corps raise awareness of eating disorders, particularly when units approach a weigh-in, by increasing education and screening for eating disorders to help them “better understand the scope and scale of the problem”.

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