Background: Nearly two-thirds of recent veterans are classified as overweight or obese. While prior research has examined various biological and psychological explanations for the high proportion of veterans struggling with excess weight, limited studies have assessed overweight and obesity among veterans in a university environment.
Goal: The goal of this project was to gain a better understanding of how past military history is associated with current overweight or obesity among student veterans.
Objectives: This analysis aimed to estimate the prevalence of overweight and obesity among the Veteran Student population at the University of Maryland and to examine whether factors related to military service background are associated with weight status.
Approach: Participants included University of Maryland, College Park veteran students who completed the 2017 Veteran’s Needs Assessment (n=172). The study utilized a convenience sample of male and female student veterans recruited using an email and social media campaign and through announcements made at different events. Multivariable logistic regression was used to estimate odds ratios (OR) and 95% confidence limits (CI) for relationships between military factors (rank, commission status, time in service, and deployment history) and weight status (normal weight and overweight/obesity).
Results: After preliminary analysis, the odds of being overweight/obese were significantly elevated for those that were junior ranking personnel (OR=4.35, 1.41-13.38 95% CI) versus senior ranking, those that deployed (OR=2.50, 1.28-4.91 95% CI) versus those that did not deploy, and individuals who spent 6 or more years in military service (6-10 years: OR=3.94, 1.86-8.34 95% CI, 11-15+ years: OR=2.67, 1.01-7.10 95% CI) compared to those who spent 5 or less. Conversely, earning a commission and being an officer were inversely associated with being overweight/obese (OR=1.58, 0.71-3.51 95% CI).
Importance to public health: This project is the first assessment of weight status among veterans at the University of Maryland. Findings from this analysis can help University of Maryland and other schools better support the health and well-being of the student Veteran population as a means of limiting the long-term impacts of overweight/obesity on health. Moreover, these findings lend support for further evaluation, particularly in larger studies, to combat this health concern.