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Excessive Drinking

Excessive alcohol use, which includes both chronic heavy drinking and episodic binge drinking, kills 88,000 Americans annually and shortens the lives of those who die by an average of 30 years. Excessive alcohol use increases risk for liver and heart disease, stroke, and certain cancers. Risk for alcohol-related disease is higher for women than men. As past studies on veterans show, excessive drinking is more common for those who have served in combat or experienced military trauma. Many veterans with mental disorders like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) also misuse alcohol, at times attempting to self-medicate symptoms of mental distress. However, research indicates that excessive drinking worsens PTSD and depressive symptoms and can make recovery more difficult.

Highlights:

  • The overall rate of excessive drinking is higher for those who have served than not served.
  • Excessive drinking rates have declined since 2011 to 12 for both those who have and have not served.
  • Whites have high rates of excessive drinking. However, Hispanics, blacks, and Asians who have served have significantly higher rates of excessive drinking than Hispanics, blacks, and Asians who have not served.
  • By age, rates of excessive drinking are highest for those aged 18 to 39 years who have served.





Insufficient Sleep

Chronic sleep problems affect about 60 million Americans. People who experience trouble sleeping are about twice as likely to have other serious health conditions, such as stroke, heart disease, and asthma. Past studies have shown that roughly half of veterans report trouble falling or staying asleep, and one in five report averaging fewer than five hours of sleep nightly. Sleep disruption is a core feature of several health problems that commonly affect those who have served, including PTSD, depression, substance use, and traumatic brain injury. Greater numbers of military deployments are also associated with reduced hours of sleep in some groups of veterans.

Highlights:

  • Insufficient sleep is more common among those who have served, overall and in most subgroups.
  • Insufficient sleep is more common among racial and ethnic minorities and at lower incomes, especially for those who have served.
  • Half of adults aged 18 to 39 years who have served report insufficient sleep as compared to roughly one-third of those who have not served.






Obesity

Obesity rates in America have nearly tripled over the last 50 years. Obesity currently affects nearly 79 million Americans, or about one-third of the population. Several leading causes of preventable death are obesity-related, including heart disease and diabetes. As many as 400,000 deaths annually are attributable to obesity. Obesity rates in veterans are equal to non-veterans, even though veterans are more likely to be physically active. Research suggest some veterans may experience a period of rapid weight gain in the first few years after military discharge, followed by gradual return to normal patterns of weight gain with age observed in the general population.

Highlights:

  • Overall rates of obesity are the same for those who have served and not served.
  • Females who have served have a significantly lower rate of obesity than those who have not.
  • Blacks who have served have a significantly lower rate of obesity than blacks who have not, while Asians who have served have an obesity rate more than double that of Asians who have not served.
  • Obesity is most common among adults aged 40 to 59 years, especially for those who have served.
  • Among those with incomes below $25,000 annually, the rate of obesity is lower for those who have served. However, for those with incomes higher than $75,000 annually, the obesity rate is much higher for those who have served.






Physical Inactivity

People who lead physically inactive lifestyles are at high risk for obesity, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, depression, and premature death. Only 20% of American adults engage in the minimum recommended level of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (150 minutes per week). Research confirms that civilian adults are more likely to be physically inactive than those with military service. One reason for this difference may be that physical fitness is a key component of military training and service, and those with military experience tend to maintain physically active lifestyles over time even after leaving the Armed Forces. Among combat veterans, physical activity may improve quality of life and reduce post-traumatic stress symptoms.

Highlights:

  • Physical inactivity rates are significantly lower for those who have served, overall and in most subgroups.
  • Racial and ethnic minorities who have served report lower rates of physical inactivity than minorities who have not served.
  • Physical inactivity rates are generally higher at older ages and lower incomes.




Smoking

Smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in the nation, contributing to more than 480,000 deaths annually. While smoking has declined in the last decade, nearly 40 million American adults still smoke and more than 16 million live with smoking-related illnesses like heart disease, stroke, and cancer. Tobacco use has long been pervasive in military culture. Many smokers who have served report their smoking began during military service, and veterans often say they continue smoking to cope with poor moods or stress. Research shows half of veterans with heart disease report being a current smoker, and veterans living with psychiatric and substance use disorders have some of the highest smoking rates.

Highlights:

  • Smoking rates are significantly higher for those who have served, overall and in most subgroups.
  • Since 2011 to 2012, smoking rates declined for both those who have served and those who have not.
  • Smoking rates are especially high for those aged 18 to 39 years who have served and those earning less than $25,000 annually who have served.



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