of Americans,” said Barnett, and Mission: Readiness is “troubled by the likely impact this will have on our future military preparedness and on the success of our upcoming generation.”
Barnett shared evidence that obesity is “inexorably linked” to America’s future military strength. Obesity is the leading medical reason why applicants fail to qualify for military service, he said. Approximately one in four young Americans is too overweight to join, and between 1995 and 2008, the military turned away more than 140,000 otherwise qualified recruits for being overweight (Mission: Readiness, 2010; Niebuhr et al., 2010). In addition, approximately 1,200 enlisted members must leave the military every year because of their weight, at an estimated cost of $61 million (Dall et al., 2007).
Beyond its effect on recruitment and retention, obesity imposes a significant financial burden on the military for medical care. DoD spends about $1.1 billion annually on medical care associated with excess weight and obesity for active-duty personnel, their dependents, and veterans (Dall et al., 2007).
The lack of physical fitness that often accompanies obesity also has a negative effect on military readiness. Today’s recruits have the highest body mass indexes (BMIs) on record, Barnett stated. As a result of the shrinking number of young people eligible for service, the military has created waivers for slightly overweight young adults who can pass the fitness test. These heavier recruits are 47 percent more likely to have a sprain, a stress fracture, or some other overuse injury than those who are not overweight (Cowan et al., 2011). These types of injuries can force recruits to repeat boot camp or leave the military altogether. These injuries also are responsible for almost one-quarter of all medical evacuations from Iraq and Afghanistan to medical facilities in Germany, compared with 14 percent of medical evacuations due to combat injuries (Cohen et al., 2010). In other words, said Barnett, “soldiers are 71 percent more likely to be evacuated out of Iraq or Afghanistan for a serious sprain or stress fracture than they are for a combat wound.”
DoD has identified obesity, particularly childhood obesity, as a major issue for the military and has begun taking steps to remedy the problem