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Today's U.S. Soldiers Fitter Than Decades Ago: Report
Date:12/26/2012

By Steven Reinberg
HealthDay Reporter

WEDNESDAY, Dec. 26 (HealthDay News) -- U.S. service members who died in Iraq and Afghanistan had been healthier than troops in previous wars, military researchers report.

Although almost 9 percent of those autopsied had some degree of atherosclerosis (or "hardening") of their coronary arteries, which can lead to heart disease, this was far lower than seen in soldiers who died in Vietnam or Korea, researchers say.

Similar studies had shown that 77 percent of soldiers in the Korean War and 45 percent in the Vietnam War had atherosclerosis, Webber's group noted.

But the numbers found in the survey of today's troops "are probably lower than those seen in the general U.S. population," added lead researcher Dr. Bryant Webber, from the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Md.

Webber believes the military's medical care is in part responsible for healthier troops. "Some of the things the military is doing -- like addressing high blood pressure, high cholesterol -- we are doing well," he said.

In addition, they have concentrated on weight management, reducing smoking and improving fitness. "We are doing some things right, compared to previous years," Webber said.

Another expert agreed.

"We had a wake-up call 60 years ago when data from young soldiers killed in the Korean War showed a very high prevalence of coronary disease," said Dr. Daniel Levy, director of the Center for Population Studies at the U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute in Bethesda, Md. He was also the author of an accompanying journal editorial.

That seems to have turned around based on this current study, he said. "There seems to be some good news that a lurking, dangerous condition appears to be far lower in prevalence today than it was in prior decades," Levy said. He attributes these gains to more attention to a healthy lifestyle and to risk
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