New Report: People with Military Service Report Better Overall Health, but Face Higher Rates of Cancer, Heart Disease than Civilian Peers

November 10, 2016
  • People who have served have a 62-percent higher rate of coronary heart disease, 67-percent higher rate of heart attacks and 13-percent higher rate of cancer
  • Those who served are less likely to be physically inactive at all ages than civilians; more likely to get insufficient sleep
  • People who have served face different access challenges: 90 percent have health insurance, but are less likely to have a personal doctor or health care provider

The majority of people who have served in the U.S. military report being in very good or excellent health despite facing notable health challenges, including higher rates of cancer and coronary heart disease, than those who have not served (also referred to as civilians).

That is according to the 2016 America’s Health Rankings® Health of Those Who Have Served Report, newly released by United Health Foundation in partnership with the Military Officers Association of America (MOAA). Through the analysis of 24 health measures, the report, developed in collaboration with an advisory group of leading public health, military and veterans’ organizations, establishes a national baseline and a holistic portrait of the health of people who have served in the U.S. military.

People Who Have Served Report Better Overall Health, but Face Higher Rates of Chronic Health Challenges

Those who have served are more likely to report being in very good or excellent health compared with civilians. However, men and women who have served report higher rates of several chronic diseases and unhealthy behaviors compared with their civilian counterparts. For example:

  • People who have served have a 13-percent higher rate of cancer, 62-percent higher rate of coronary heart disease and 67-percent higher rate of heart attacks.
  • Individuals 18-39 years of age who have served have a 39-percent higher rate of insufficient sleep and 23-percent higher rate of smoking.

Men and Women Who Have Served are Less Physically Inactive at All Ages

The report found physical inactivity for all age groups is 22-percent lower among people who have served in the military compared with those who have not served. Specifically, physical inactivity is 38-percent lower among individuals 18-39 years of age who have served vs. their civilian peers, and 21-percent lower among individuals over 80 years of age.

People Who Have Served Have Higher Rates of Health Insurance Coverage, but Individuals 18-39 Years of Age Often Lack a Personal Doctor or Health Care Provider

The report found people who have served in the military have higher rates of health insurance coverage, fewer unmet medical needs and higher utilization of certain preventive services compared with those who have not served. However, they also are less likely to have someone they regard as a personal doctor or health care provider. For example:

  • More than 90 percent of people who have served in the military have health insurance coverage, compared with about 83 percent of civilians.
  • Individuals 18-39 years of age who have served are far less likely to have a personal doctor or health care provider (59.3 percent) compared with their older peers with military service and civilians of all ages.

“Despite the confidence among those who have served in the U.S. military in regards to their health, the higher rates of coronary heart disease and cancer compared with their civilian counterparts are concerning,” said Richard Migliori, M.D., senior adviser to United Health Foundation, and executive vice president, Medical Affairs, and chief medical officer of UnitedHealth Group. “We owe a great debt of gratitude to those who have served, and we need to do all we can to help improve their health. Using the new insights from this report, we can identify specific opportunities to work together to help improve the health of our service members and veterans.”

“The health of those who have served is a high priority for all of us,” said MOAA President and CEO Lt. Gen. Dana T. Atkins, USAF (Ret). “We believe insights from this report will help stimulate dialogue and action to better serve the unique health needs of uniformed service members, veterans and their families.”

This is the second time MOAA has partnered with United Health Foundation to identify specific areas to improve care for the men and women who have served.

“The health of those who have served is an important area of focus for policymakers, health officials and community leaders,” Atkins said. “We encourage others to use these findings to help improve the lives of service members and their families.”

To read this report and additional America’s Health Rankings materials, visit http://www.americashealthrankings.org.