Face of Defense: Florida Woman Loses 84 Pounds to Join Army
By Cynthia Rivers-Womack
U.S. Army Recruiting Command
GAINESVILLE, Fla., Jan. 3, 2012 Allison Scarbrough officially changes jobs today, from retail cashier to health care specialist in the U.S. Army. But the change has not been easy.
Allison Scarbrough of Gainesville, Fla., lost 84 pounds to qualify for service in the Army. U.S. Army photo
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Scarbrough, then 20, walked into the recruiting station here in May 2010 ready to become a soldier. But because she carried 240 pounds on her 5-foot, 5-inch frame, she had to lose 84 pounds and keep the weight off before she would be eligible to enlist.
In 2010, Scarbrough belonged to the country's growing demographic of 18-to-24-year-olds considered overweight and obese. In 1998 -- when the National Institutes of Health released the first federal guidelines to identify, evaluate and treat overweight and obese adults -- 97 million Americans, or 55 percent, were identified as overweight or obese.
A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study revealed that in 1998, only one state had 40 to 49 percent of its 18-to-24-year-old population classified as overweight or obese. By 2008, that number had grown to 39 states. The CDC uses a height-weight calculation known as body-mass index, or BMI, to determine whether someone is overweight or obese. The Army also uses BMI measurements to determine weight, with different calculations for men and women.
Keenly aware of weight-management issues among its active-duty and reserve soldiers, Army officials began offering the service’s “Weigh to Stay” program online in 2006. The initial program was designed for in-person sessions, but the online platform made the program more accessible and self-directed, according to a 2006 interview with Army Lt. Col. Danny Jaghab, site creator and past nutrition staff officer at the U.S. Center for Health Promotion and Preventive Medicine at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md. In addition, the Army now provides a platform at http://www.hooah4health to help soldiers in their goals to maintain a healthy lifestyle.
When Scarborough realized she could not join the Army until she lost 84 pounds and kept it off, she said, she changed her behavior toward food and modified her lifestyle and eating habits. She began eating more vegetables and doing away with high-caloric drinks, fast-foods and unnecessary snacks.
Encouraged by her recruiter, Army Staff Sgt. Terrance Retsch, Scarborough started physical training in September 2011 with the future soldiers of the Gainesville recruiting station.
"I knew when Scarbrough came into our office she would take the challenge to lose weight and would be successful,” Retsch said. “She's determined and strong-willed, plus the Army gave her a bigger purpose that had immediate and long-term benefits: improving her health and becoming a soldier."
Scarbrough said the transition has been good for her body and her mind.
"Weight shouldn't be something that stops you from doing what you really want,” she said. “Losing weight is a lot of work, but even when you hit a plateau you have to keep at it. My mother didn't think I would follow through with losing the weight or joining the Army, but I did it, and now I'm ready to go."