In recent months a new national security threat has been discussed among military leaders, politicians, and news agencies throughout the country; namely, the United States is too damn fat to fight. There was even a report by that title authored by a ton of ex-military brass on how overweight youth are undermining our national readiness.
Other authorities and media types have recently discussed how soldiers already in the service are operating at sub par levels, due to a weight problem. For some soldiers, sailors, and airmen it’s so serious that they’re forced out of the military altogether.
There are a variety of causes for the situation, but the fact remains that according to that report by the ex-military brass, there is a growing problem meeting recruiting goals because so many young Americans are simply too overweight to meet the recruiting standards.
Oh sure, these kids are probably great at using their thumbs to run a joystick and kill people on their XBOX 360 or PS3, but what about having the potential to do so in real life? Can they realistically expect to meet the physical demands of combat while lugging around an extra 30lbs of fat, in addition to the 60 pound combat load they’re expected to carry? Apparently not.
Is It Getting Worse?
First the good news, fewer people smoke in the military. Now for the bad news. In 2008, 4,555 military personnel were discharged for failing to meet weight standards, up from only 2,224 in 1998. In addition, a government report found that between 1995 to 2008, “the proportion of potential recruits who failed their physicals each year because they were overweight rose nearly 70 percent.”
What do the Hard Numbers Say?
Despite the dire reports emanating forth from the Pentagon, is it really as bad as the news media has been reporting? Well, although the aforementioned 4,555 military members were discharged for failing to meet weight standards in 2008, according to the Chief of the Army Demographics Office, only 87 Army soldiers left that year for failing their physical fitness test, and just 174 were dismissed for failing to get below the 26% body fat limit (men). Does that mean the Army is in great shape, but members of the Navy and Air Force are too used to riding, rather than walking?
According to the same report, the numbers for Army soldiers lay out like this:
Dismissed for Body Fat Percentage Violations
1989 – 2,084
1999 – 1,703
2009 – 247
That precipitous drop from 1999 to 2009 says to me that either a) the Army has become a group of physical fitness freaks or b) they relaxed the body fat standards to allow more soldiers to serve at body fat levels that would have previously gotten them a free pass back home.
Actually, there could be another reason. Here is the formula the army uses to calculate soldier’s body fat levels and determine whether or not they meet requirements:
% body fat = 86.010 x log10(abdomen – neck) – 70.041 x log10(height) + 36.76, and for females, the formula is % body fat = 163.205 x log10(waist + hip – neck) – 97.684 x log10(height) – 78.387 . Maybe the real reason is that the formula is so difficult to calculate, nobody bothers anymore.
Actually, as you’d expect, there’s actually a handy chart to help decide if soldiers are over the limit. If you carefully examined the formula, you can tell the charts vary according to height, so that the vertically challenged aren’t discriminated against.
You’d think that the army would have more rigorous body fat standards than the Air Force. After all, the flyboys seldom need to actually fight or flee, unless they’re herding around some high tech machinery that does much of the work for them (until the Gs start, that is). That’s not true, though. The Army standards at recruitment for males 70 – 74.5in tall dictate that their body fat levels should not exceed 26% and must have dropped to 20% when they exit boot camp. The Air Force mandates the 20% level from the very beginning, however.
Is It Because We’re Too Fat From the Beginning These Days?
According to the“Are We Too Fat To Fight?” report released earlier this year, it may well be because so many Americans are fat from the moment they enter military service. They barely squeak under the 26% obesity standard (it’s 24% for those 17 – 20 years of age). In fact, many more are denied the ability to serve because they are simply too fat.
A Solution to the Military Recruit Obesity Problem?
There might be a way out of the whole mess that doesn’t require the youngsters in America to actually get their propensity for junk food eating and disdain for physical activity under control. Maybe we need a separate classification for combat soldiers and those too overweight to engage in combat operations.
That’s the solution to the too overweight to recruit problem the military faces. The Dorrito eating video game crowd can still join the service, but they can only serve behind the lines. Perhaps their skills can be best employed as remotely piloted vehicle jockeys? If you’re slim and trim, kick ass and take names. If not, kick back in a chair and take out the bad guys with your thumb and forefinger, just like back home.
Seriously, we need to get this teen obesity thing under control, before the government comes in and does it for us, with their typical heavy handed, “we’re doing it for your own good to bolster national security and save the taxpayer money” approach.
Already laws are being passed throughout the land baning us from eating this or that in the name of protecting us from ourselves or raising taxes on something so we choose to avoid it.. I’m obviously more fitness conscious than the average American, and try to eat a very health conscious diet. However, that’s my choice to do so. I don’t want the government dictating that I must do so or offering financial dissuasion (that we all have to pay for) for failure to, for whatever reason.
The fact is that we have become a more sedentary society in recent years, and despite all the information out there about nutrition, many people simply eat like crap. Parents fail to police what their kids eat, because, well, it’s faster to go through the drive through, and not have to clean up the kitchen. Plus, it’s a heck of a lot faster and easier after practice gets over at 6:00 to just blast through the Mikey Ds drive through with junior, than it is to wait until you get home at 6:30 to start a dinner that won’t be ready to eat until 7:00. I know, because I’ve done it myself.
I’m fortunate my kids would rather play sports and do stuff outside than to play video games and watch TV. Many people are not so lucky however, and with lives being so busy, it’s tougher today to put your foot down in the face of such practices than it was in the past.
That brings us to our current dilemma of Too Fat to Fight. Here are some of the findings from the report:
“an alarming 75 percent of all young Americans 17 to 24 years of age are unable to join the military because they failed to graduate from high school, have criminal records, or are physically unfit.
Being overweight or obese turns out to be the leading medical reason why applicants fail to qualify for military service. Today, otherwise excellent recruit prospects, some of them with generations of sterling military service in their family history, are being turned away because they are just too overweight. “
Not good, but what about this?:
“Over a ten-year period, the number of states with 40 percent or more of their young adults who were overweight or obese went from 1 to 39!”
The Army actually uses a more lenient standard of obesity than does the civilian National Institute of Health.
“Every year, the military discharges over 1,200 first-term enlistees before their contracts are up because of weight problems; the military must then recruit and train their replacements at a cost of $50,000 for each man or woman, thus spending more than $60 million a year.21 That figure pales in comparison, however, to the cost of treating the obesity-related problems of military personnel and their families under the military’s health care system, TRICARE, or the cost of treating obesity-related problems under the veterans’ health care system”
The report notes the National School Lunch Act of 1946 which states the following:
“It is hereby declared to be the policy of Congress, as a measure of national security, to safeguard the health and well-being of the Nation’s children and to encourage the domestic consumption of nutritious agricultural commodities and other food, by assisting the States, through grants in aid and other means, in providing an adequate supply of food and other facilities for the establishment, maintenance, operation and expansion of nonprofit school lunch programs.”
If you’ve examined the stuff they serve in some of the nation’s schools these days, you’d conclude that the NSLA wasn’t quite being followed, especially the part about “ safeguard the health and well-being of the Nation’s children”. That’s what the ex-gens decided as well, targeting the schools as the primary way we can improve the nation’s obesity problem. Unfortunately that only addresses a part of the day. What about the rest of the meals the kids scarf down?