Post-retirement weight gain--fact or fiction?

By Claudia Drum, Registered Dietitian, U.S. Army Public Health CommandMay 30, 2014

Weight Gain
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Do Army retirees maintain healthier weights when compared to civilian retirees?

Approximately half of the Army retirees whose height and weight were measured at medical appointments in military treatment facilities last year had a body mass index that classified them as obese. Obesity rates for these retirees are significantly higher than the general population of the same age. In addition, the rate of obesity among these Army retirees is twice as high when compared to active-duty Soldiers.

BMI is a calculation of weight in relationship to height. Although it doesn't measure body fat directly, it is a fairly reliable indicator of body fatness for most people. A BMI greater than 30 is classified as obese and can lead to serious weight-related health problems such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes, cancer and high blood pressure. Obesity can contribute to difficulty sleeping, breathing problems, decreased mobility, joint pain and even depression--all affecting your quality of life.

U.S. Army Public Health Command data estimates that Army retirees may experience an average weight gain of four pounds during their first year of retirement. If this trend continues over the years, it may result in significant weight gain.

In addition to BMI, your waist circumference may provide a better predictor of disease risk.

A high waist circumference (greater than 40 inches for males and greater than 35 inches for females) or too much abdominal fat is one of five medical conditions that comprise "metabolic syndrome." This diagnosis (also known as Syndrome X) affects approximately 34 percent of the U.S. adult population and increases the risk of cardiovascular disease, heart failure and diabetes. It is a disorder diagnosed by a co-occurrence of three out of the five following medical conditions: excess abdominal fat, high blood pressure, high blood sugar, high triglycerides and low high-density lipid (HDL) levels. The likelihood of developing this syndrome increases with age.

What causes post-retirement weight gain?

"It is most likely attributed to a combination of factors such as a decrease in physical activity or not adjusting caloric intake once you leave the military," said Lt. Col. Sandra Keelin, a registered dietitian at the U.S. Army Public Health Command.

Could it also be the fact that "Uncle Sam" isn't keeping tabs on you and testing your weight and physical fitness every six months? Your career progression no longer depends upon your weight or level of fitness. In addition, as you age, your body composition gradually changes as the proportion of muscle tissue decreases and fat tissue increases. This shift slows down your metabolism, making it easier to gain weight. Combine these two factors--less physical activity and a slower metabolism--with poor eating habits, and you create the perfect storm for promoting post-retirement weight gain.

You can prevent unwanted weight gain by committing to the development and maintenance of healthy lifestyle habits. A good place to start is the U.S. Army's Performance Triad, which focuses on three components of health: sleep, activity and nutrition. The Performance Triad is all about getting back to the basics. Getting plenty of rest, adequate exercise and proper nutrition will help you live your life to the fullest. Take steps today to improve your health to get the most out of your retirement years.

•To find out more about the Performance Triad visit

•For more information on calculating your BMI, visit the National Institute of Health:

•To measure your waist circumference: Use a tape measure. Start at the top of the hip bone, and then bring it all the way around, level with your navel (belly-button). Make sure it's not too tight and that it is parallel with the floor. Don't hold your breath while measuring.

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