(National Sentinel) To Fat to Fight: It’s a problem that has been growing — literally — for years, but now it’s reaching its zenith: The obesity epidemic among American youth, coupled with other cultural factors, has become a national security issue, as fewer young men and women are able to qualify for military service.
A new report, “Unhealthy and Unprepared,” found that the rising numbers of overweight youth are having real negative impacts on recruiting, which in turn is having an impact on the effectiveness of the military.
Right off the bat, nearly one-third of American youth ages 17-30, the prime recruiting range, are disqualified because they are overweight, the Army Times reports.
“Out of all the reasons that we have future soldiers disqualify, the largest – 31 percent ― is obesity,” Maj. Gen. Frank Muth, head of Army Recruiting Command, told attendees Wednesday at AUSA’s annual meeting in Washington, D.C.
“We’ve got to make sure that message gets out, because our concern is what happens when that percentage that qualify … potentially goes down?” Muth said. “Or if the obesity, if that starts to go up.”
Army Times reported:
The study was undertaken by researchers with Mission: Readiness, an organization of more than 700 retired senior military leaders. One solution, they found, was institutionalized fitness and nutrition programs in schools, to ensure that kids grow up with healthy habits.
Researchers found that of the 29 percent of young Americans who have a high school diploma, no criminal record and no chronic medical issues, just 17 percent would be qualified and available for active duty, and 13 percent would qualify, be available, and achieve a satisfactory score on the Armed Forces Qualification Test.
“These numbers are particularly concerning because as the recruitable population has declined, so has interest in serving in the military,” the study found.
Full employment and a growing job market are contributing factors as well, though today’s average soldier, sailor, airman, and Marine are better trained and educated than ever.
Army Times noted that in 2016, just 13 percent of 16- to 24-year-olds showed an interest in joining the military, but that low figure dropped by 2 percent the following year.
Even for overweight potential recruits who would otherwise qualify for service, there are health risks involved during basic training; they are more likely to be injured.
“The Citadel, a military college in South Carolina, found that recruits in 10 Southern states had lower levels of physical fitness and were 22 percent to 28 percent more likely to be injured during basic training than their peers from other areas of the country, according to Mission: Readiness,” Army Times reported.
That’s a real problem because the Army, in particular, gets the bulk of its recruits from the South.
Obesity is also a problem for those who are currently serving. A 2016 study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine found that “active duty soldiers with obesity were 33 percent more likely to suffer musculoskeletal injury, contributing to the more than 3.6 million injuries that occurred among active duty service members between 2008 and 2017.”
“[The Defense Department] spends $1.5 billion a year on obesity-related health care for active duty service members and veterans and their family members,” or missing 650,000 days of work for active duty troops, said retired Lt. Gen. Thomas Spoehr.
The Army is working long-range to improve fitness for potential recruits:
The Army expects to see positive results from implementing the Occupational Physical Assessment Test to evaluate potential recruits before they join up, then following up with the Army Combat Fitness Test through their careers, as part of a holistic program that provides dietitians, physical therapists and other support staff at the unit level.
A retired three-star general put the issue in very stark terms.
“You know, lieutenant, fat people don’t make good soldiers,” said retired Lt. Gen. Sam Ebbessen, when recalling the words of an advanced individual training instructor master sergeant he worked with at Fort Dix, New Jersey, years ago. “They’re a weak link in the chain, and they get themselves and others killed.”
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