Motivations for Weight Loss Among Active Duty Military Personnel

Mil Med. 2017 Sep;182(9):e1816-e1823. doi: 10.7205/MILMED-D-16-00380.


Introduction: Rates of overweight and obesity among Active Duty Military Personnel remain high despite fitness test requirements, negative consequences of fitness test failure, and emphasis on weight and appearance standards. Specific motivating factors for weight loss influence weight loss program interest and often differ by gender, race, ethnicity, or age. This study investigates the weight loss motivations endorsed by a diverse population of Active Duty Military Personnel initiating a behavioral weight loss study, to inform the development of future recruitment efforts and program development.

Materials and methods: Active Duty Military Personnel (n = 248) completed a 16-item questionnaire of weight loss motivations before initiating a behavioral weight loss study. We evaluated endorsement patterns by demographic characteristics (body mass index [BMI], gender, race, ethnicity, age, and military rank). Data collection for this study was approved by the Institutional Review Board of Wilford Hall Ambulatory Surgical Center and acknowledged by the Institutional Review Board of the University of Tennessee Health Science Center.

Results: Results indicated that improved physical health, improved fitness, improved quality of life, and to live long were endorsed as "very important" motivations by at least three-fourths of the sample. "To pass the fitness test" was endorsed less frequently as a "very important" motivation, by 69% of the sample. A greater proportion of women as compared to men endorsed being very motivated by improving mood/well-being, quality of life, physical mobility, job performance, appearance, and sex life, as well as fitting into clothes. Participants categorized in the "Other" racial group and African Americans more frequently endorsed motivations to improve fitness and physical strength when compared to Caucasians. Moreover, participants in the "Other" race category were significantly more likely to rate their ability to physically defend themselves, improve physical mobility, and improve interactions with friends as motivators. Participants who identified as Hispanic endorsed significantly higher frequency of being motivated to improve their ability to physically defend themselves, interactions with friends, physical mobility, and sex life compared to those who identified as non-Hispanic. A significantly lower percentage of officers of lower rank (i.e., O1-3) endorsed being motivated to improve their quality of life. Improving confidence was a significant motivator for younger and lower ranking enlisted personnel (i.e., E1-4). Younger participants were also significantly more likely to want to improve their ability to physically defend themselves.

Conclusion: We conclude that overweight and obese Military Personnel are motivated by various reasons to engage in weight loss, including their military physical fitness test. Findings may assist the development of recruitment efforts or motivationally focused intervention materials for weight loss interventions tailored for the diverse population of Active Duty Military Personnel.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Black People / ethnology
  • Black People / statistics & numerical data
  • Body Weight
  • Female
  • Hispanic or Latino / statistics & numerical data
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Military Personnel / psychology*
  • Motivation*
  • Population Groups / ethnology
  • Population Groups / statistics & numerical data
  • Quality of Life / psychology
  • Statistics, Nonparametric
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Weight Loss*
  • White People / ethnology
  • White People / statistics & numerical data