January 2, 2012
By Cynthia Rivers-Womack, USAREC
Gainesville, Fla. — Allison Scarbrough will officially change jobs Jan. 3, 2012, from retail cashier to Health Care Specialist in the U.S. Army. But the change has not been easy.
In May 2010, then 20-year-old Scarbrough walked into the Gainesville recruiting station ready to become a Soldier. This was a brave move for her because before she could enlist two things had to happen: weighing 240 pounds, the five-foot, five-inch tall Scarborough had to lose 84 pounds and keep the weight off before she would be eligible to enlistment. But for the motivated Scarborough, failure was not an option.
In 2010, Scarbrough belonged to the country’s growing demographic of 18-to-24-year-olds considered overweight and obese. In 1998, the National Institutes of Health announced the release of the first federal guidelines to identify, evaluate and treat overweight and obese adults. When the guidelines were released, 97 million Americans, or 55 percent of the population, were identified by physicians as overweight or obese.
Data supporting the guidelines was released from a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention longitudinal study (1998-2008) showing that 40-49 percent of the country’s overweight or obese 18-to-24-year-olds increased from one state in 1998 to 39 states by 2008. According to the CDC, overweight and obesity are determined using height and weight calculations resulting in the “body mass index or BMI.”
Using the CDC formula, a BMI over 30 (or 30 pounds) was determined to be obese. According to the guidelines, which apply to both men and women, a BMI of 30 is equivalent to 221 pounds in a 6′ person and 186 pounds in a person who is 5’6. The Army also uses BMI measurements to determine weight, with different calculations for males and females.
The Army has been keenly aware of weight management issues among its active-duty and Reserve Soldiers and in 2006 implemented Weigh to Stay on-line. The initial program was designed for in-person sessions, but the on-line platform made the program more accessible and self-directed, according to a 2006 interview with Lt. Col. Danny Jaghab, site creator and past nutrition staff officer for the Directorate of Health Promotion and Wellness, U.S. Center for Health Promotion and Preventive Medicine at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md.
Nowadays, the U.S. Army’s Hooah4Health.com continues to provide a platform of support to Soldiers in their goals to maintain a healthy lifestyle. The site supplies links to a list of resources that assist with Soldier Readiness including a weight management tracker, an Army Physical Fitness calculator, information about stress management, aerobic exercise, Warrior Tasks and Battle Drills for new Soldiers–as well as links to family health resources. Overall, the Army wants to ensure that all its Soldiers have access to resources and programs that keep them healthy — not only when serving in the military, but when they return to civilian life as well.
When Scarborough realized she could not join the Army until she lost 84 pounds, and kept it off, she changed her behavior toward food. Beginning in May 2010, she modified her lifestyle and eating habits. She began eating more vegetables and doing away with “junk foods” like high-caloric drinks, fast-foods and unnecessary snacks. In September 2011, encouraged by her recruiter, Staff Sgt. Terrance Retsch, Scarborough started physical training with the Future Soldiers of the Gainesville recruiting station.
“I knew when Scarborough came into our office she would take the challenge to lose weight and would be successful. She’s determined and strong-willed, plus the Army gave her a bigger purpose that had immediate and long-term benefits: improving her health and becoming a Soldier,” said Retsch.
Over the months, Scarborough began a gradual and steady transformation into the image of a healthy and fit Soldier. According to Scarborough, the transition has been good for her body and her mind.
“Weight shouldn’t be something that stops you from doing what you really want. Losing weight is a lot of work but even when you hit a plateau you have to keep at it,” said Scarborough. “My mother didn’t think it I would follow through with losing the weight or joining the Army, but I did it and now I’m ready to go.”