German Soldiers Fat – Even Compared to Civilians

Soldiers in the German Bundeswehr are fat and out of shape.

German Soldiers Fat German armed forces soldiers of the Bundeswehr troops who served in Afghanistan for ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) prepare before a welcoming ceremony west of Munich in this August 4, 2007 file photo. Germany's young soldiers are fat, smoke too much and don't take enough exercise, a report on the armed services said March 4, 2008. REUTERS/Miro Kuzmanovic/Files Germany’s young soldiers are fat, smoke too much and don’t exercise enough, a report on the armed services said on Tuesday. “The public perception is that soldiers are slim, sporty and healthy. Unfortunately, the reality is very different,” said Germany’s army commissioner Reinhold Robbe as he presented the report.

Some 40 percent of soldiers between 18 and 29 are overweight compared to 35 percent among Germany’s civilian population, said the report, which also found young male and female soldiers smoked too much and failed to do enough sport.

“I make no secret of the fact that these results worry me a lot,” said Robbe, who blamed a passive lifestyle among troops. Once one of the world’s most-feared fighting forces, Germany’s armed forces now have about 245,000 uniformed staff.

Dogged by the legacy of World War Two, it is only nine years ago that Germany engaged in its first foreign combat operations since 1945, taking part in NATO air strikes in Yugoslavia. Roughly 9,000 German troops are deployed today in global hotspots including Afghanistan and Kosovo.

This is only mildly surprising, really. Soldiers are usually in good shape because they’re trained in an environment of discipline motivated by the very real sense that they’ll need to be ready for the rigors of combat. That hasn’t been the case in Germany in decades, to some degree, and any pretense went away with the fall of the Berlin Wall and collapse of the Soviet Union.

Germany is a key NATO ally and, in most respects, a very good one. But their contribution to the military effort is minimal. Their force and budget are woefully small and their readiness level is low. It’s been more than six decades since WWII; it’s time to get over it and reclaim their tradition of martial excellence.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. jc says:

    It was only 19 years ago that the (west) German Defence Minister said “After Reunification the first question is the Polish border”.
    So how fit should they be?

  2. Dave Schuler says:

    A 5% difference between civilians and military sounds like margin of error to me. I’d also be interested in how they define overweight.

    The number of Americans in that age group who are obese or overweight is about 2/3’s compared to the 2/5’s for the German military. I wonder if we and the Germans are defining it in the same way.

  3. DC Loser says:

    I believe the German-Polish border has indeed been resolved at the current position on the Oder-Neisse line. Germany no longer has any claims to its former territory on Polish soil.

  4. James Joyner says:

    A 5% difference between civilians and military sounds like margin of error to me.

    That’s probably true. But, certainly, relatively few active duty soldiers in the American military would be considered overweight. And it would have been a much smaller number than that if we weren’t so desperate to keep people now that we’re at war.

  5. mike says:

    You are right about keeping in overweight soldiers who normally would be chaptered out if it weren’t for the fact that a body is better than nobody due to the personnel shortage – the wastelines I see on a daily basis at my installation seem to get bigger and bigger – it seems like more and more new soldiers begin their career overweight – you also are now seeing folks put on a lot of weight on deployments

  6. KB says:

    Given that around 20% of the german army is made up of conscripts, how many of these overweight soldiers are in the first few months of their service?

    And how many are still overweight when their term is over,or after a few months in the army?

    I suspect this isn’t a case of the german army being full of lazy fat people but simply a reflection that most modern western countries have a lot of lazy fat people.

  7. JB says:

    in my opinon this is due to a lack of purpose in the german army. physical exercise is rarely enforced at company level for most of the conscripts the army is more of a burden than a duty, especially considering the low wages (roughly 300€/month for 9-month conscripts)
    furthermore, i resent your comment to ‘get over it’ with regard to ww2 as being somewhat ill conceived. a nationalist germany would probably endanger the stability in central europe. passions are still running high in poland and the czech republic concerning former german displaced persons. nationalist tendencies not really an issue in german politics, save for the extreme right wing.