Randomized Controlled Trials to Treat Obesity in Military Populations: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis

Davide Gravina*, Johanna Louise Keeler, Melahat Nur Akkese, Sevgi Bektas, Paula Fina, Charles Tweed, Gerd Dieter Willmund, Janet Treasure, Hubertus Himmerich

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


In recent years, overweight and obesity have reached an alarmingly high incidence and prevalence worldwide; they have also been steadily increasing in military populations. Military personnel, as an occupational group, are often exposed to stressful and harmful environments that represent a risk factor for disordered eating, with major repercussions on both physical and mental health. This study aims to explore the effectiveness of weight loss interventions and assess the significance of current obesity treatments for these populations. Three online databases (PubMed, PsycInfo, and Web of Science) were screened to identify randomized controlled trials (RCTs) aiming to treat obesity in active-duty military personnel and veterans. Random-effects meta-analyses were conducted for body weight (BW) and body mass index (BMI) values, both longitudinally comparing treatment groups from pre-to-post intervention and cross-sectionally comparing the treatment group to controls at the end of the intervention. A total of 21 studies were included: 16 cross-sectional (BW: n = 15; BMI: n = 12) and 16 longitudinal (BW: n = 15; BMI: n = 12) studies were meta-analyzed, and 5 studies were narratively synthesized. A significant small overall BW and BMI reduction from baseline to post-intervention was observed (BW: g = −0.10; p = 0.015; BMI: g = −0.32; p < 0.001), together with a decreased BMI (g = −0.16; p = 0.001) and nominally lower BW (g = −0.08; p = 0.178) in the intervention group compared to controls at the post-intervention time-point. Despite limitations, such as the heterogeneity across the included interventions and the follow-up duration, our findings highlight how current weight loss interventions are effective in terms of BW and BMI reductions in military populations and how a comprehensive approach with multiple therapeutic goals should be taken during the intervention.

Original languageEnglish
Article number4778
Issue number22
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2023


  • active-duty military personnel
  • meta-analysis
  • military population
  • obesity
  • obesity treatment
  • randomized controlled trial
  • RCT
  • veterans
  • weight loss intervention


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