Weighing in on America’s Military Readiness

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The U.S. is facing an obesity epidemic that prevents as many as 30% of adults from participating in military service. This is troubling news for a country that is embroiled in three conflicts overseas and has tired its all-volunteer military with repeated deployments. The C.I.A. claims that the U.S. has approximately 145 million men and women that could be called into service if necessary, and says that of that 145 million approximately 120 million are currently fit for service. The number of those fit for service are being worn thinner and thinner in their repeated deployments overseas while those remaining at home are growing larger.

The obesity epidemic represents for U.S. national security not only a drain on health care resources, but a potential liability in the case that the U.S. needs to mobilize for a large conventional war. Even those recruits deemed fit and healthy for service require weeks and even months before they are prepared, conditioned and trained sufficiently to handle the rigors and stresses of combat. Those deemed too overweight to serve are a complete loss to the military, and those that barely meet the requirement are certain to need longer conditioning and training times. The longer we need to train an increasingly overweight population for service in war, the more uncertain our ability to defend ourselves in a time sensitive situation becomes.

 

If the obesity epidemic continues the military will increasingly find itself short of new recruits that can pass their physical entrance tests and maintain an acceptable level of body fat. Those that do not meet these standards after being allowed into the military are denied promotion, entrance into military schools and cannot be given command positions either as non-commissioned officers or regular officers. Additionally, should the military ever require the draft it will now be easier to go to McDonald’s than Canada to dodge the draft. Perhaps two countries with Golden Arches do not go to war with one another because they are simply too obese to do so.

It’s difficult to measure exactly where the obesity epidemic will go within the next several weeks or months. It is more a problem that is measured in years or decades. The U.S. government is considering several pieces of legislation that tax products with higher volumes of sugars or fats most notably soda and fast food. However, it is difficult to go much further in obesity prevention without infringing on the personal liberties of American citizens. The key for the U.S. in fighting this epidemic is education. Teaching children and parents methods for healthy living and eating that are also cost effective will be essential to slowing and reversing the obesity epidemic. Physical fitness programs in schools should be made permanent and immune from budget or program cuts. The long-term benefits will outweigh the costs if at least in a figurative sense. Most importantly the military readiness of the United States will be far more secure.

 

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