Thirty-one percent of all applicants to join the US Army as disqualified immediately because they are obese, Maj. Gen. Frank Muth, head of Army Recruiting Command, has announced.
According to a report in the Army Times, Muth was speaking at the Association of the United States Army (AUSA) annual meeting in Washington, D.C. this week.
“America’s rising numbers of overweight youth are going to have real impacts on the military’s ability to maintain effectiveness,” he said.
“We’ve got to make sure that message gets out, because our concern is what happens when that percentage that qualify … potentially goes down? Or if the obesity, if that starts to go up.”
A study undertaken by researchers with Mission: Readiness, an organization of more than 700 retired senior military leaders, and titled “Unhealthy and Unprepared” 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.
In 2016, 13 percent of 16- to 24-year-olds were interested in joining the military, and that number dropped 2 percent in 2017.
And for recruits who are overweight but not so much so that they can’t enlist altogether, there are risks after they have joined and are getting in shape during training.
The obesity issue is particularly stark in the South, from which the Army draws a large number of its recruits.
One retired three-star put the issue in harsher terms.
“You know, lieutenant, fat people don’t make good soldiers,” said retired Lt. Gen. Sam Ebbessen, recalling the words of an advanced individual training instructor master sergeant he worked for at Fort Dix, New Jersey. “They’re a weak link in the chain, and they get themselves and others killed.”
* According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Hispanics (47.0 percent) and non-Hispanic blacks (46.8 percent) have the highest age-adjusted prevalence of obesity, followed by non-Hispanic whites (37.9 percent) and non-Hispanic Asians (12.7 percent).
The CDC’s “Prevalence of Obesity Among Adults and Youth: United States, 2015–2016” report adds that the prevalence of obesity among non-Hispanic black (22.0 percent) and Hispanic (25.8 percent) youth was higher than among both non-Hispanic white (14.1 percent) and non-Hispanic Asian (11.0 percent) youth.
The pattern among girls was similar to the pattern in all youth. The prevalence of obesity was 25.1 percent in non-Hispanic black, 23.6 percent in Hispanic, 13.5 percent in non-Hispanic white, and 10.1 percent in non-Hispanic Asian girls. The pattern among boys was similar to the pattern in all youth, except Hispanic boys (28.0 percent) had a higher prevalence of obesity than non-Hispanic black boys (19.0 percent).