Too heavy to fight: How the obesity epidemic is threatening U.S. national securityFahad Alsabhan | 05.07.2019
The obesity epidemic has decreased the number of young Americans able to meet the physical conditioning requirements of the U.S. military.Obesity is no longer just a population health challenge. This nationwide epidemic is now an emerging national security threat. Almost one-third of American youth are unable to join the military due to being overweight. This poses a major challenge for the U.S. military in its attempt to recruit the next generation of soldiers. Potential enlistees must satisfy a physical evaluation in order to be eligible for service, and the largest reason for disqualification – 31 percent of all new recruits – is obesity.
The largest reason for disqualification – 31 percent of all new recruits – is obesityWhile a third of 17-to-24-year-olds are too overweight to qualify for military recruitment, the issue begins much earlier in life. Children as young as two are exhibiting rising obesity rates, which increases with age. 42 percent of teens aged between 16 and 19 are suffering from being overweight. These concerning numbers emphasize the need for preventive measures beginning earlier in life and continuing as our children grow.
How is Obesity Really Affecting Our Security?A recent study conducted by Mission: Readiness titled “Unhealthy and Unprepared” states that American youth with obesity are going to have a serious impact on the military’s effectiveness. As of September 2018, the Army had a recruitment goal of 76,500 soldiers, yet only 70,000 recruits joined by the end of 2018. It was found that of the 29 percent of young Americans who graduated high school with no criminal record, and no chronic medical conditions, only 17 percent would qualify and be available for active military duty, and 13 percent would qualify and achieve a satisfactory score on the Armed Forces Qualification Test (AFQT).
Obesity Affecting Recruitment RatesIn 2017, just 11 percent of 16- to 24-year-olds said they would definitely or probably be serving in the military in the next few years. This is a decrease from 13 percent in 2016, further illustrating the challenges of recruiting new personnel. Estimates suggest that the eligible population will stall at 29 percent through 2020. National security relies on those who are willing to serve to meet the standards of eligibility. Increasing obesity rates, particularly in the southern United States, prevent otherwise eligible young people who are interested in serving from qualifying. 44 percent of military recruits in 2016 were from the South, which also has the highest rate of obesity in the country (32 percent in 2017).
Army recruits who are less active are much more likely to be injured during basic training