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Fit Enough to Fight? Obesity and the Military

The U.S. military has not escaped the impact of the obesity crisis. Between 1995 and 2008, at least 140,000 recruits arriving at Military Entrance Processing Centers weighed too much to pass their entrance physicals — and this does not include obviously overweight candidates turned away by recruiters. The Army estimates that 27 percent of the nation’s young adults (17 to 24 years old) are too fat to qualify for military service. Military leaders see these numbers as a threat to the armed services’ future strength and even the nation’s security.70

The Army estimates that 27 percent of the nation’s young adults (17 to 24 years old) are too fat to qualify for military service.

Obesity causes problems beyond recruiting. After boot camp, the weight challenges can continue; hundreds of enlistees are involuntarily discharged from duty because they cannot stay within weight limits. About 1,200 enlistees are discharged in this way each year. Each represents about $50,000 in recruitment and training costs, implying an annual cost of $60 million. Obesity-related health care for those remaining in the military adds an additional cost.

Mission: Readiness, an organization of retired generals and admirals, advocates for national standards for school meals and nutrition education for students, parents and teachers to alleviate the problem of overweight recruits. It also supports increased funding for school food services to help them avoid using cheap, calorie-dense but low-nutrition foods to stretch meals.71

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