Obesity is a Military Readiness Problem

September 28th, 2012 by MorganDowney Leave a reply »

Mission: Readiness, a non-profit organization of some 200 former senior military officers, has issued its report, “Still Too Fat to Fight,” an update of its 2010 report.  The report notes that 1 in 4 American adults of military service age are ineligible because of body weight. The report calls for additional efforts to remove junk food from schools. See http://missionreadiness.s3.amazonaws.com/wp-content/uploads/Still-Too-Fat-To-Fight-Report.pdf

Additional ammo for appreciating the gravity of the obesity epidemic for the US military comes from two papers by John Cawley and Johanna Catherine MacLean,  of Cornell University and University of Pennsylvania, respectively.

In their article, “Unfit for Service: the implications of rising obesity for US military recruitment,” the authors document the fraction of age-eligible civilians exceeding the weight and body fat standards for the US Army.  They find that the percentage of military age adults ineligible for enlistment because they are overweight or over-fat more than doubled for men and tripled for women from 1959 to 2008. They further estimate that a rise of just 1% in weight and body fat would further reduce eligibility by over 850,000 men and 1.3 million women, posing a major challenge for defense policy-makers. PubMed: Unfit for Serivce

In another article coming out in December 2012 issue of the journal, Applied Economic Perspectives and Policy, they address the consequences of rising youth obesity for US military academy admissions. They found that the fraction of age-eligible civilians exceeding the standards for admission to the US Military Academy at West Point, the US Naval Academy at Annapolis and the US Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, CO, has more than doubled for men and quadrupled for women between 1959 and 2010. Among women, it is 13% more likely that African-American will not meet the standards than white women. Further increases of just 1% in the civilian obesity rate will increase ineligibility 16.5% for men and 10.9% for women. Not only do these findings threaten the military’s drive to greater diversity in its officer corps, but they may reduce US military readiness as well.

The obesity problem does not end with military service A recent study by Littman and colleagues at the VA Puget Sound Health Care System, found that weight gain was greatest around the time of discharge from service and in the 3 years prior to discharge. Being younger, less educated, overweight and have combat experience were all associated with clinically significant weight gain. This identifies a window which accounts for higher rates of obesity in veterans. PubMed: Weight Change following US military service

 

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