German soldiers 'fatter than average citizen'

Germany's defence ministry said yesterday that it would take very seriously a parliamentary report showing that the nation's soldiers are more overweight than average civilians. ( Guardian )

Ministry spokesman Thomas Raabe said the ministry was analysing the report, issued by the parliamentary commissioner for the military, Reinhold Robbe, and would provide a summary of its own findings by midyear.

"Soldiers are too fat, don't do enough sports, and don't pay attention to what they eat," Robbe wrote.

His report drew on a study conducted by sports physicians at the University of Cologne showing that 40% of all soldiers between the ages of 18 - 29 are overweight, compared to 35%of German civilians the same age.

Robbe said that did not mean that the country's soldiers are too unfit to be deployed effectively. But he argued it would be an "enormous advantage" on the battlefield if they were in better shape. He urged the defence minister, Franz Josef Jung, to alter the military's relationship to physical fitness.

"Without a fundamentally new approach, without an offensive to improve the fitness of our soldiers, things will hardly change," Robbe said.

In testimony to parliament, Robbe said that few troops participate in sports either on or off duty, despite high-quality sports equipment at their barracks. 20% do not participate in any sports at all and 70% regular smokers.

"These are alarming results, if one thinks that the army has provided ideal conditions and invests €26 million every year to support the highest quality sports training for our troops," he said.

Robbe attributed the poor fitness to a passive lifestyle encouraged by military officers and an excess of bureaucracy.

On-duty soldiers are burdened with an institutional "fury for regulation," mandating everything from how troops are to separate trash to what forms need to be filled out before carrying out simple tasks, he said. Soldiers are so preoccupied with those rules that they often have little time to exercise, he added.

"How very seriously we take the report is recognisable in that we are carefully analysing it," Raabe said. "There will be a debate on it in parliament in mid-year."

The German military has 250,000 soldiers in total, 60,000 of whom are conscripts.

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