Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Climbing obesity rates threaten U.S. national security by hampering military recruitment

Date:
October 19, 2010
Source:
Cornell University
Summary:
At a time when American military forces are stretched thin overseas, a growing number of potential recruits are too fat to enlist, according to a new analysis.

At a time when American military forces are stretched thin overseas, a growing number of potential recruits are too fat to enlist, according to an analysis by Cornell economists.

In the past half-century, the number of women of military age who exceed the U.S. Army's enlistment standards for weight-for-height and body fat percentage has more than tripled. For military-age men, the figure has more than doubled. As of 2007-08, 5.7 million men, or nearly 12 percent, and 16.5 million women, about 35 percent, of military age are ineligible for duty because they are overweight or obese, estimate John Cawley, associate professor of policy analysis and management, and economics doctoral student Catherine Maclean.

The findings, published in September by the National Bureau of Economic Research in a working paper titled "Unfit for Service: The Implications of Rising Obesity for U.S. Military Recruitment," are cause for alarm for the military branches (Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps), which together must attract some 184,000 new service members each year. Fewer able-bodied recruits could also lead the Pentagon to limit its use of troops and rely instead on unmanned aircraft and private security companies to carry out missions, the paper notes.

"Almost one in four applicants to the military are rejected for being overweight or obese -- it's the most common reason for medical disqualification," Cawley said. "With an active war in Afghanistan and continuing operations in Iraq, it is well-known that the military is struggling to recruit and retain soldiers. Having a smaller pool of men and women who are fit enough to serve adds to the strain and creates even more problems for national defense."

Cawley and Maclean also found stark disparities in fitness levels of potential recruits based on race, income and college education. Compared with white females, black and Hispanic females are less likely to meet the weight standards, for instance, making it difficult for the military to achieve its diversity goals.

The study follows a similar report last spring by retired generals and admirals, which noted that more than one-fourth of young adults are medically ineligible for service. But Cawley and Maclean chart the climbing obesity rates over a much longer period, using data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys spanning 1959-2008. Moreover, the Cornell study estimates the number of civilians who meet the body fat requirements of each military branch, which had not been tracked previously. "We also accessed weight and height records measured by medical professionals, which are more accurate than self-reported data," said Maclean.

Military brass have limited options to fix the problem, Cawley said. They could relax the height-for-weight and body fat standards, but Cawley warned of additional costs to treat obesity-related conditions and associated absenteeism. "Military spending on obesity is over $1 billion annually already," Cawley said. "It's more than the military spends on treating tobacco- and alcohol-related illness combined."

One solution could be to institute more lenient weight standards for noncombat troops. "A computer programmer or cook may not need to have the same level of physical fitness as an infantryman," Cawley said.

Ultimately, Cawley said, the steep decline in military-eligible men and women illustrates the hidden costs of obesity.

"It's another example of the underappreciated public consequences of obesity," Cawley said. "We tend to think of obesity as a personal, individual health problem. But the fact that U.S. military leaders view it as a threat to national security and military readiness shows its far-reaching impact."

Report: Unfit for Service: The Implications of Rising Obesity for U.S. Military Recruitment


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Cornell University. The original article was written by Ted Boscia. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Cornell University. "Climbing obesity rates threaten U.S. national security by hampering military recruitment." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 19 October 2010. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/10/101018165430.htm>.
Cornell University. (2010, October 19). Climbing obesity rates threaten U.S. national security by hampering military recruitment. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 28, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/10/101018165430.htm
Cornell University. "Climbing obesity rates threaten U.S. national security by hampering military recruitment." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/10/101018165430.htm (accessed July 28, 2014).

Share This




More Health & Medicine News

Monday, July 28, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Trees Could Save More Than 850 Lives Each Year

Trees Could Save More Than 850 Lives Each Year

Newsy (July 27, 2014) A national study conducted by the USDA Forest Service found that trees collectively save more than 850 lives on an annual basis. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Google's Next Frontier: The Human Body

Google's Next Frontier: The Human Body

Newsy (July 27, 2014) Google is collecting genetic and molecular information to paint a picture of the perfectly healthy human. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
What's To Blame For Worst Ebola Outbreak In History?

What's To Blame For Worst Ebola Outbreak In History?

Newsy (July 27, 2014) A U.S. doctor has tested positive for the deadly Ebola virus, as the worst-ever outbreak continues to grow. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Losing Sleep Leaves You Vulnerable To 'False Memories'

Losing Sleep Leaves You Vulnerable To 'False Memories'

Newsy (July 27, 2014) A new study shows sleep deprivation can make it harder for people to remember specific details of an event. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins