Recruiting new talent to the military has proved difficult because of an epidemic of obesity in the United States. A new report shows that a third of young adults are too fat to enlist.
Mission: Readiness, a non-profit group composed of retired military leaders, thinks that the problem of obesity largely stems from a lack of physical activity and the introduction of unhealthy food, Military Times reports.
The problem isn’t going away. Instead, rates of obesity appear to be steadily climbing. Since 2002, the military has seen a 61 percent rise in obesity, meaning that 12 percent of current servicemembers are overweight. A study with a sample size of 2,000 men in a brigade in Afghanistan discovered that 14 percent were obese.
This results in an annual expenditure of $1.5 billion dollars, mostly comprised of increased medical and replacement costs in the event of a discharge, according to retired Brig. Gen. John Schmader.
Enlistment rates aren’t the only area obesity affects. The services often have to dismiss personnel because of weight requirements. In 2012, the Army removed 3,000 soldiers, and the Navy and Air Force dismissed 1,300. Many enlistees who enter basic training manage to shed over 20 pounds to join, but as soon as training is over, these same enlistees often end up gaining the weight back.
Although some advocates have tried to sever the connection between obesity and health, Schmader notes that in an operational setting, body fat matters.
“Statistics show us, studies show us that people who are not physically fit and overweight have a higher incidence of non-combat related injuries,” Schmader told KMUW. “And those cost us money. And they could jeopardize the mission or they could jeopardize the young person’s life itself.”
The same study of 2,000 troops in Afghanistan found that those who were obese were 40 percent more likely than their normal counterparts to suffer an injury.
While obesity is the leading reason why so many cannot enlist, other factors play a role, as well. In Kansas, the report found that a total of 71 percent of young adults can’t enlist, and only 29 percent of that figure is directly attributable to obesity. The rest is due to factors like drug use, criminal history or insufficient education. Around 62 percent of teenagers in Kansas do not engage in an hour of daily exercise.
The issue of excess body fat can be especially pronounced among women, which is why the Secretary of the Navy recently announced an effort to increase allowable limits for women, in order to encourage more to enter the service. (RELATED: Navy Secretary Wants More Women In The Service, Proposes To Increase Body Fat Limits) .
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