Belgian Army Fights Flab With Campaign to Slim Down Overweight Troops

The Belgian Army said Thursday it was launching a war on chubby soldiers with a diet plan to literally slim down its overweight troops.

At the same time, the Belgian defense ministry plans to cut down its manpower to 34,000 troops by allowing 1,150 soldiers to go on early retirement next year, official press agency Belga reported.

Those who stay will have to work on their waistlines.

An army spokeswoman cited by the Flemish newspaper Het Nieuwsblad said that 60 percent of soldiers were overweight, and of those 15 percent were obese.

"Just like a firefighter, a soldier must be in shape," the spokeswoman, Ingrid Baeck, told Nieuwsblad, noting that the average age of Belgian soldiers is 40 years old.

"The defense chief (General Charles-Henri Delcour) has again stressed the problem 10 days ago. We want to get rid of the image of the 'fat soldier'," Baeck said.

The military will launch the diet program in the autumn.

The Belgian military has also been on a financial diet.

The defense budget has been falling every year since 2008 and hovers around 1.0 percent of gross domestic product, lower than the 2.0 percent threshold demanded by NATO to its members.

The Belgian army is not the only NATO member with chubby soldiers within its own ranks. Around 4.4 percent of US soldiers, or around 69,000 men and women, were considered obese in 2008, according to Pentagon figures.