Yesterday saw news stories about a new group of retired officers who’ve started an organization called Mission: Readiness that wants to address the problems of a limited pool of recruits available to the services because of failure to meet height and weight standards for entry.
National security is threatened by the sharp rise in obesity rates for young people over the last 15 years, the group Mission: Readiness contends. Weight problems are now the leading medical reason that recruits are rejected, the group says, and thus jeopardize the military’s ability to fill its ranks.
In a report released Tuesday, the group says that 9 million young adults, or 27 percent of all Americans ages 17 to 24, are too fat to join the military. The retired officers were on Capitol Hill advocating for passage of a wide-ranging nutrition bill that aims to make the nation’s school lunches healthier.
As a recruiter, I faced this problem fairly often. Some guys (and girls, of course) were so obese, it was a waste of my time to talk to them. They would never overcome the challenge of losing enough weight to enter. Why should I try to talk them into joining when they would never be eligible?
Other cases, borderline folks, were a different matter. Some were dedicated to joining and would put in the effort to lose weight and meet the standard. Other folks, well, they liked what I was selling, but not that much.
Of course, being fat wasn’t the only disqualifier for service. There were myriad other medical conditions that would preclude entry. But I’m not a doctor, so while I would screen applicants for potential problems, I’d make the doctor justify not letting them in. There were times when it seemed there was no rhyme or reason to which conditions were unacceptable, and others were fine. But if I knew of any issues, and had the records to explain them, I’d have a much better chance of my applicant being accepted.
As a rule of thumb, we figured that only about one third of any graduating high school class was qualified to enlist- mentally, morally, and physically. That didn’t even address their desire or propensity to enlist. So you can see what a challenge finding qualified enlistees was. As the population gets fatter and more sedentary, it will continue to become more difficult.