Fitness, obesity and risk of heat illness among army trainees

S. A. Bedno*, N. Urban, M. R. Boivin, D. N. Cowan

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

33 Scopus citations


Background: Exertional heat illness (EHI) affects military personnel, athletes and occupational groups such as agricultural workers, despite knowledge of preventive measures. Aims :To evaluate EHI diagnoses during US Army basic training and its associations with fitness and body fat on entering military service. Methods: From February 2005 to September 2006, US Army recruits at six different military entrance stations took a pre-accession fitness test, including a 5-min step test scored as pass or fail. Subsequent EHI incidence and incidence rate ratios were analysed with reference to subjects' fitness (step test performance) and whether they met (weight qualified [WQ]) or exceeded body fat (EBF) standards. Results: Among the 8621 WQ and 834 EBF male subjects, there were 67 incidents of EHI within 180 days of entering military service. Among WQ subjects, step test failure was significantly associated with EHI (odds ratio [OR] 2.00, 95% confidence interval [CI] 1.13, 3.53). For those passing the step test, the risk of EHI was significantly higher in EBF than in WQ subjects (OR 3.98, 95% CI 2.17, 7.29). Expected ORs for the joint effects of step test failure and EBF classification under additive and multiplicative models were 4.98 and 7.96, respectively. There were too few women to evaluate their data in detail. Conclusions: This study demonstrated that fitness and body fat are independently associated with incident EHI, and the effect of both was substantially higher. Those with low fitness levels and/or obesity should be evaluated further before engaging in intense physical activity, especially in warmer months.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberkqu062
Pages (from-to)461-467
Number of pages7
JournalOccupational Medicine
Issue number6
StatePublished - Sep 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • Body fat
  • Fitness test
  • Heat illness
  • Military
  • Obesity


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