In 2015, 19% of Swiss military recruits were overweight and 6% were obese, according to World Health Organisation measures.
The University of Zurich was asked by the Swiss federal office of public health to analyse the BMI (Body Mass Indicator) data of 36,669 male recruits between the ages of 18 and 21. Swiss broadcaster SRF, in a programme called “10 vor 10” looked at the validity of the BMI measure.
While the BMI is widely used, its weaknesses have long been acknowledged among experts. “The BMI is a crude measure that is set too low for men” says Frank Rühli, a professor at the University of Zurich. It does not distinguish between muscle and fat. Many men with above-average body weight are still fit and athletic.
Classifying one in four military recruits as overweight or obese is too high, according to Zurich University research. Another method, which involves measuring abdominal circumference does a better job of identifying those with too much body fat. Using this method reduces the percentage of recruits who are overweight or obese to 15%. This measure is not perfect either though. “It is important to use a combination of measures” says Professor Frank Rühli. “However, we know there are significantly fewer medically overweight individuals.”
From 2018, the army plans to use abdominal circumference measurements instead of BMI.
While 15% is better than 25%, it is still significant. For three out of twenty male military recruits to be overweight or obese is concerning. A study by the Swiss statics office, which uses BMI, shows how excess weight progresses with age. By the age of 50, the percentage of men in Switzerland considered overweight or obese, climbs from around 30%, for those between the age of 15 to 34, to more than 60%.
In addition, the study shows that being overweight is strongly correlated with diet. Those who eat more meat are more likely to have weight issues. Around 25% of men who never or rarely eat meat are overweight or obese, compared to nearly 45% of those who eat meat 5 to 7 times a week. Meat consumption correlates more strongly with being overweight than a lack of exercise, according to the study.
The problem of obesity in Switzerland almost doubled in the twenty years from 1992, rising from 5.4% to 10.2%.
In Switzerland, excess weight is more prevalent among men than women. Around half of men are either overweight or obese, compared to one in three women.