More than half of US active-duty service members are overweight or obese, the New York Post has reported, citing a recent study.
Military leaders told US Congress in May that the Army, Navy, and Air Force would fail to meet their recruitment targets this year, citing a shrinking pool of eligible candidates.
The Post’s article on Friday drew heavily on a report released last week by the non-profit American Security Project. Titled: ‘Combating Military Obesity: Stigma’s Persistent Impact on Operational Readiness’, the document estimates that “68% of active-duty service members are overweight or have obesity.”
It also warned that obesity rates among military personnel have more than doubled over the past decade.
The findings indicate that excessive body fat is the leading disqualifying factor for candidates wishing to enlist, as well as a “primary contributor to in-service injuries and medical discharges.”
The American Security Project argued that the trend poses a “dire threat” to national security, undermining the “strength and operability of the armed forces.”
“Identifying, diagnosing and treating obesity within soldiers at the front lines of our national defense may ultimately determine the long-term survival of the force,” the study said.
To tackle this issue, the nonprofit recommends more frequent checkups with a focus on service members’ body mass index, coupled with proactive counseling and medical advice.
According to Pentagon data obtained by Stars and Stripes newspaper, less than a quarter of Americans aged 17 to 24 qualify both academically and physically for military service.
In June, Military.com reported that US special forces – the Green Berets – had failed to meet enlistment quotas for four of the past five years due to a shortage of eligible candidates.
A month prior, Secretary of the Army Christine Wormuth told Congress that enlistment would again fall short this year, after last year’s failure to recruit 15,000 service members, or 25% of the target.
The US Army Recruiting Command cited among the reasons the tight labor market, but also the fact that more than seven in ten young Americans are ineligible for military service due to issues such as obesity, drug use, and mental illness.
In April, Military.com reported that the US Air Force relaxed its guidelines on obesity, allowing male recruits to have up to 26% body fat, with the ceiling being as high as 36% for females.
The previous limits had been 20% for males and 28% for females.