The current debate raging across the internet’s tubes is whether America’s obesity epidemic poses a threat to national security. A mysterious “group of retired officers” commissioned and released the report, which says:
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.
Daniel Engber analyzes the numerical claims made in the study, and explains how their numbers are entirely misleading:
The Pentagon’s director of accessions, Curtis Gilroy, presented the same numbers to the House Armed Services Committee last March. He said that 35 percent of potential recruits are disqualified for medical reasons, with obesity being a major factor. Another 18 percent have drug or alcohol problems, 5 percent have criminal records, 6 percent have too many children; and 9 percent score in the prohibitive category V on the Armed Forces Aptitude Test.
It’s true that if you add those numbers, you’ll get something close to 75 percent. But that assumes no two of the above-listed groups are overlapping.
In the new report, the retired generals focus on just one sector of the pie chart—the 9 million young adults who are too heavy for military service. This number comes from the Census Bureau, and once again seems to discount the possibility that some fat people might be too stupid, morally corrupt, drug-addled or burdened by family to enlist in the armed forces anyway. As such, it’s a distortion of the facts to imply that every one of them might be in uniform, were it not for their excess weight.
While obesity may be the most obvious cause for rejection, the Army maintains a litany of potential disqualifications; aside from the usual asthma and heart conditions, ingrown toenails (if infected) and extra digits are also cause for rejection. The Army’s medical guidelines are no less than 148 pages long.
What the survey fails to consider is that some fat people have ingrown toenails, and some asthmatics also have weight problems. While it would be premature to declare obesity no problem for the military, it’s much less of a problem than it’s cracked up to be. With all branches currently exceeding recruitment goals, both in quantity and quality, there are presumably more important problems to worry about (not to mention that obesity rates might be leveling off).
Personally, I’m 6′ 8″ (just at the cusp of qualifying), weigh 330, and have ADHD and asthma. Three disqualifications right there, though Theodore Roosevelt is a good role model to emulate – the man beat his asthma, after all. But I’m disqualified from serving, much as I’ve been pondering the idea, as are vast swathes of the country.
Starbuck would like your thoughts – got any?