A disturbing new demographic development might soon harm American national security: the obesity rate among young people makes many of them ineligible to serve in the military. A new study by Trust for America’s Health revealed that “71 percent of young people in the U.S. would not be able to join the military even if they wanted to.”
Out of all the people who want to enlist but get turned away, 23 percent were disqualified for service because they either weighed too much or had too much body fat. In other words, the military’s pool of potential new soldiers, sailors, and airmen would be 23 percent larger if the youth obesity rate was zero. That’s a conservative estimate, too. That figure doesn’t account for people who don’t try to enlist because they know they exceed the weight or body mass index (BMI) limits.
The obesity epidemic isn’t spread evenly across America. Women are about 5 percent more likely than men to be obese, and obesity is especially prevalent in low-income communities. Millennials and Gen-Xers (ages 20-39) claim the lowest obesity rate of all adult generations: 34.3 percent. Still, that’s more than a third of that age group.
Our parents fare much worse, with 41 percent of Americans aged 40-59 now weighing in as clinically obese. The obesity rate declines slightly for Americans ages 60 and over to 38.5 percent. When including people who are overweight but not clinically obese, 70 percent of Americans are carrying unhealthy weight.
Most military recruits are young, so the youth obesity rate has a disproportionate impact on military recruiting. However, obesity is far from the only condition that makes someone ineligible to enlist. “More than 70 percent of today’s youth are not fit to serve in the military due to obesity or being overweight, criminal records, drug misuse or educational deficits.”
Each branch of the military sets its own weight requirements, but none of them allow for obesity due to safety concerns. Should any branch change its rules to allow obese individuals to enlist, a logistical problem would occur. Our military men and women need to be able to perform extremely physical jobs. Other physically demanding service careers face the same issue. Police and fire departments are forced to cope with the reality that as Americans get larger, their hiring pool shrinks.
While the military screens new recruits for physical fitness, service members can still gain unhealthy weight once enlisted. This has a real cost not only for military readiness, but also for defense spending. “Overweight and obese service members cost the armed services $1.1 billion in medical costs […] per year.”
No one suffers from a health condition (including obesity) because they want to. However, it’s important to note that young people with obesity are struggling under too much weight, facing daily health problems, and cut off from the opportunity to serve their country if they so choose.
Angela Morabito writes about politics, media, ethics, and culture at Bear2theRight.com. She holds both a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree from Georgetown University, and has appeared on On the Record with Greta van Susteren as well as Cavuto: Coast to Coast.