Chris Christie by Eugene Smith

Christie Issues a Reprimand for Obesity

The awkward news of the week has to be Governor Chris Christie issuing a reprimand for obesity to the man he appointed to lead the New Jersey National Guard. Christie has declined to discuss the matter, but his spokesman told the Washington Post that Christie has given Air Force Brig. Gen. Michael L. Cunniff 90 days to “meet his obligations” under military fitness standards.

These military fitness standards are quite involved. The Department of Defense sets a threshold for body fat percentage, but gives different branches of the military flexibility to set more rigorous standards. The Air Force has a rather thorough fitness testing methodology.

The heart of the problem for Cunniff is that he has dodged the fitness testing and received a reprimand last year for doing so, as well as for failing to meet standards for waist size. Cunniff said in a statement Monday conceding that in his years of military service, “on occasion,” he had not met some fitness standards. He said:

I have struggled with weight control my entire adult life. However, I do recognize that military members and leaders, like myself, are held to a higher standard. I take this matter seriously and am taking the necessary steps to remedy this issue.

Like everything related to obesity, this is not a simple problem. Every branch of the U.S. military is discharging growing numbers of soldiers because of obesity. Obesity rates for potential recruits is making it hard for the military to meet recruiting goals.

It would be tempting to criticize arbitrary military standards. But it’s obvious that the standards have been carefully worked out, even if there’s room for further refinement. The real problem is that we don’t have tidy solutions for obesity. Prevalence has grown to unacceptable levels. It’s a chronic disease that is not readily curable. Evidence based tools for managing it can help considerably, but they’re far from ideal.

The biggest complication for Christie is a larger controversy about fundamental problems with the leadership of the New Jersey National Guard. The Post reports there is a “mutiny in the ranks” stemming from allegations of “cronyism, racism, and a toxic command climate.”

It will be worth watching to see whether the question of Cuniff’s competence in leadership or his weight receives more attention. Clearly, it is competence that should matter above all else.

Click here and here to read more about the problems of Cuniff and the New Jersey National Guard. Click here to read more about the problem of obesity for military fitness.

Portrait of Chris Christie © Eugene Smith / flickr

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August 25, 2015