One quarter of young Americans are too obese to qualify for military service; junk food weakens national security
by: Jennifer Lea Reynolds
Forget back and forth shifts in political decisions, terror threats and changing policies; the latest threat to national security may be the fact that many Americans are too obese to serve in the military.
"I am very concerned about the reduced number of men and women who can meet all the qualifications required to serve in our armed forces," says retired U.S. Navy Rear Admiral Steven Tomaszeski. "Nearly one quarter, 25 percent of all Americans ages 17-24 are too overweight to serve. Obesity is not only affecting those who can qualify for military service, it is also creating challenges for our active duty military," he explains.
Shocking highlights of report detailing the consequences of obesity and military service
The statistics stem from a report released by retired Maryland admirals who are members of Mission: Readiness, a group of over 500 retired admirals and generals who are dedicated to preserving national security now and in the future. Titled, "Retreat is Not an Option," the report details the surge in obesity while also making the case for healthier school meals, an increase in exercise and an overall awareness for the need for more fit military service members.
The report states:
Currently, 12 percent of active duty service members are obese based on height and weight -- an increase of 61 percent since 2002 -- which is resulting in serious problems with injuries and dismissals. Given that one-third of American children and teens are now obese or overweight and nearly one-quarter of Americans ages 17 to 24 are too overweight to serve in our military, the obesity rate among active duty service members could get even worse in the future if we do not act. Obesity among our military and their families is costing our defense budget well over $1.5 billion a year in health care spending and recruiting replacements for those who are too unfit to serve.
The report notes that excess weight was not always an issue, stating that increased calorie consumption and lack of exercise is often the norm for many children.
As such, the report educates on the matter of proper food intake and physical activity, stressing how much walking is needed, for example, to counter the ill effects of consuming a 20-ounce soda.
The Mission: Readiness report focused in on two areas; children who grow up to be obese and therefore, face difficulties qualifying for military service and the many current service members who are encountering serious body weight challenges that gravely impact their health as well as the country's security.
The report continues:
These problems are not only a challenge for military recruiters looking for enough fit individuals, but they are also leading to increased injuries and dismissals among those who serve.
Additionally, tax payers suffer.
The report goes on to explains that unfit service members are often discharged, as was the case in 2012 when 3,000 soldiers were dismissed by the Army. Recruiting and training replacements in such instances costs taxpayers about half a billion dollars.
Efforts to combat the obesity epidemic in schools and in the military
On the positive side, the report also highlights school districts that attempt to make strides in fighting the obesity epidemic, something in which various military branches are also involved. For example, the Army has a "Go Green" initiative, the Navy assists those who are not as fit by equipping them with custom running shoes and the Air Force provides parents living on military installations with classes that focus on nutrition and exercise.
Retired Navy Rear Adm. A.B. Cruz III says that children often eat unhealthy food at school since they are away from the more watchful eye of parents. He maintains that it's especially important for schools to get on board with instilling the benefits of better nutrition, a concept that gets the attention of Maryland sixth-grader Jodi Evans.
"The healthy habits we develop today will become the healthy habits we maintain as adults," Evans says. "It is important for youth to have a voice in the fight against childhood obesity, because youth influence other youth."