As America struggles with a toxic political discourse and an increasingly volatile world outside our shores, yet another nationwide crisis looms which might impact our national security if left untreated – obesity.
The Pentagon has identified five major disqualifiers among U.S Military recruits and obesity heads the list. While other factors include heavy drug or alcohol use, medical disqualifications, failure to graduate from high school and previous criminal records are concerns, the obesity crisis could have a stunning impact. All five factors limit the pool of recruits to the extent that only one-quarter of Americans are eligible to join any of the four U.S. Military branches: the Army, the Air Force, the Navy, and the Marine Corps.
Between 2006 and 2011, the military reported that around 62,000 recruits who showed up to enlist failed their entrance physicals due to weight issues. The report also showed that one-quarter of all Americans between the ages of 17 and 24 were too overweight to enlist.
Military requirements haven’t increased, but the population has become broader. More and more people want to join the military because it provides employment and stability, which is a result of low unemployment and the drawdown in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to the Washington Post.
All four military branches are currently meeting their recruitment goals, but this trend may not last forever. The military fears that if the economy and unemployment improve, the number of recruits may decrease, which would limit the pool even further.
“Being out of shape is a huge distraction for our recruits and soldiers,” said former Navy SEAL and military fitness guru Stew Smith in an editorial for Military.com. “If the overweight and obesity of our troops is not fixed, we are dealing with national strategic problems which makes it difficult to defend America from our enemies.”
The increasing rates of childhood obesity have encouraged the military to support initiatives to curb unhealthy dietary habits, such as improving school lunch nutrition. While limiting the availability of junk food in schools is not a solution by itself, it is a start to end this epidemic.
Military officials believe that lowering obesity rates will expand the pool of young Americans eligible to join the military.
Childhood obesity has sparked new debates in the financial, political and health sectors surrounding the costs of growing obesity rates. Annual medical expenses linked to obesity have doubled in less than a decade and may be as high as $147 billion per year, according to a recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Obesity is an underlying factor in the development of health conditions, such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Obese individuals are also forced to pay higher health and life insurance premiums.
To learn more about weight requirements in the military, read United States Military Body Fat Standards.