Obesity Blocks the Path to Military Readiness Goals

The numbers are daunting. More than 70 percent of young Americans between 17 and 24 cannot serve in the U.S. military. Why? The soaring prevalence of obesity is at the top of the list. According to a new Heritage Foundation report, this means military readiness goals might be impossible to meet:

The U.S. military is already having a hard time attracting enough qualified volunteers. Of the four services, the Army has the greatest annual need. The Army anticipates problems with meeting its 2018 goal to enlist 80,000 qualified volunteers, even with increased bonuses and incentives.

Life and Death and Health at Every Size

Recruiting is just one part of the problem. The military has strict guidance for what it takes to stay in the service. It’s not a hypothetical problem, explains Army Command Sgt. Maj. John Troxell:

If I have to climb up to the top of a mountain in Nuristan, in Afghanistan, and if I have someone who is classified as clinically obese, they are potentially going to be a liability for me on that patrol.

Retired Command Sgt. Maj. Terrance McWilliams was even more blunt:

It gets extremely dangerous when you can’t keep up with the rest of the pack. You are putting your fellow comrades at greater risk.

A recent study from Daniel Bornstein at the Citadel found that U.S. Army recruits from ten states with high obesity rates were more likely to present problems with fitness and injuries. Obesity is not just a public health problem, he says. It’s a threat to national security.

Solutions for a Long-Term Problem

These issues have built for some time. John Cawley and Johanna Maclean presented stark numbers in a 2010 working paper. They predicted that growing obesity rates would become an especially serious problem if recruitment demands increased. And now they have.

So far, we’ve seen little interest in efforts to reverse trends toward ever more obesity from the current administration. But those trends – if not reversed – may well block the path to military readiness goals.

Click here for more from Politico and here for the study by Bornstein et al. For the Heritage Foundation report, click here. Also, you can find more perspective from GW’s Bill Dietz in this commentary.

Soldiers, photograph © Adam Baker / flickr

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March 1, 2018

One Response to “Obesity Blocks the Path to Military Readiness Goals”

  1. March 08, 2018 at 4:48 pm, John DiTraglia said:

    Maybe we’re sending too many trim young men off to die in war.