51325822821 90aeb672a3 O

American Fitness Has National Security Implications. It’s Time to Take It More Seriously.

Fiscal year 2023 is projected to be the most difficult year for military recruiting since the inception of the all-volunteer force in 1973. Every branch of the military reports extreme challenges recruiting enough volunteers to fill their ranks. Not only are fewer people volunteering, but there are fewer eligible Americans to enlist as the prevalence of obesity grows and disqualifies an ever-increasing number from military service.

The army is experiencing the worst time of it. By the end of the 2022 fiscal year on September 30, the military reported a 25% shortfall in their desired numbers – about 15,000 soldiers short. While the other services barely met their recruiting goals, they face similar problems that have left them behind for the coming year.

Where normally the Marine Corps has already met as much as 50% of its recruitment goal, officials say they have just over 30%. The Air Force has about 10% where it would normally see 25%, and the Navy sits at an equally meager 10%.

In the midst of this construction crisis, there was a whirlwind of discussion about how to encourage more Americans to join the military. This is an important discussion, but often overlooked is the question of how to increase the percentage of Americans who are even qualified to join the military at all.

Since 2014, studies have shown that only a mere 29% of Americans were qualified to serve without being granted a waiver for one of the standards for entry. In a Senate hearing earlier this year, Army chief General James McConville reported that the number had now dropped to just 23%.

In an era where nations like China and Russia violate international norms on a daily basis, the fact that less than a fourth of the American population is qualified to serve in a military already suffering from a recruitment crisis should be deeply disturbing. The world is becoming more dangerous with each passing day, and America needs the US military to be ready to defend our interests.

So what disqualifies people from military service? There are several factors including education, criminal background and health. Patterns in the former two categories are difficult to identify, but negative health trends are becoming more and more common in potential service members and average Americans. Among these trends, the biggest standout – accounting for 17% of health-related disqualifications – is obesity.

In 2010, 30% of adults between 18 and 39 suffered from obesity. In 2020, just 10 years later, that statistic skyrocketed to 36.3% and is expected to continue rising to 43% by 2030. With this tragic trend comes increases in heart disease, cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure, joint damage, and other serious ailments.

This year, the Army announced the launch of a new pilot program for motivated volunteers who generally meet most requirements but either need to improve their test scores, lose weight or improve their fitness. Rather than turning these volunteers away, the Army runs them through a program at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, to help them meet the standards. The initiative is an excellent first step, but it will take more than the military’s effort and ingenuity to truly solve the problem.

Fighting obesity starts at a young age, creating the desire to build healthy habits, nutritional knowledge and personal motivation to stay active in our youth. Unfortunately, childhood obesity and activity statistics show that America is failing in that regard, with 21% of children between the ages of 12 and 19 already suffering from obesity.

Studies from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have revealed that only a quarter of school-aged children meet the healthy minimum of 60 minutes of physical activity per day. Barely half of high school students attend regular physical education classes weekly, with only a third doing so daily.

While there is no single solution to this challenge, there is little public effort to address the issue at all. Former First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move initiative was a step in the right direction, confronting the problem head-on, raising nutrition visibility standards and encouraging kids to eat healthy and exercise in tandem with big food companies and celebrities. However, popular culture seems determined to walk back that effort.

American youth suffer from body image issues in record numbers, but pop culture’s response has been to dismiss the value of challenging yourself to improve in favor of loose ideas about body positivity and healthy living with few actionable details.

At the same time, pop culture fails to uphold any role models of said healthy living for American youth. Actors, athletes and celebrities who should be using their platforms to inspire change in the face of a real threat to our children and country are silent. Even the President’s Council on Sports, Fitness and Nutrition, which should serve as the national voice on fitness, has been remarkably silent on this issue in its blog posts and initiatives.

But all hope is not lost. The more serious the problem becomes, the harder it is to miss, and schools across the country are starting to take action on youth fitness. For example, schools in Lincoln, Nebraska, are building a full wellness program headed by a full-time coordinator; physical activity breaks built into the schedule; partnerships with local farmers; and after school activities, sports and classes.

The challenges, complexities and sensitivities surrounding the topics of obesity and fitness can sometimes make it difficult to discuss, but the seriousness of its consequences makes it imperative that we do, rallying behind communities like Lincoln to strive for solutions who can be models for others.

Future generations need an American population that is healthy, active and educated in the stewardship of their own persons. It is time for military leaders, politicians, educators and parents to seriously examine the future of American children, the military and the country at large and change our current path for the better.

This piece originally appeared in The Daily Signal

Related Posts