The US military has an important war to wage on fat within its own ranks, according to a study authored by Richard Atkinson, MD, professor of medicine and nutritional sciences at the University of Wisconsin.

Atkinson, who is also president of the American Obesity Association, recently presented his findings to a national conference on obesity, saying: "The Armed Forces are not immune from the obesity epidemic sweeping this country […] It's time we recognize obesity as a chronic disease and dedicate federal resources into research and effective treatment programs."

The study found that over recent years, soldiers' weight has increased significantly, and now 54% of all military personnel are overweight. There is a gender difference, as more than twice the number of men than women are over the military weight guidelines, 58.6% and 26.1%, respectively.

Overall, the number of overweight men increased from 54.1% in 1995 to 58.6% in 1998, and over the same period the number of overweight women increased from 21.6% to 26.1%.

Atkinson puts the advancing age of soldiers as the predominant reason for the increase in weight, but he concluded: "I'm concerned that the epidemic of obesity in the civilian population may adversely affect the pool of potential recruits for the services."

The scientist warned that the extra weight could affect the national forces' readiness for combat, contributing to poor performance and endurance rates, and significantly increasing injury rate.

The problem of extra weight is most prominent in the Navy and lowest in the Marines.