This statistic comes from HBO’s “Weight of the Nation” documentary, which examines what it calls America’s obesity epidemic. Also mentioned in the documentary is a figure thrown out by Dr. Eduardo Sanchez, chief medical officer for Blue Cross/Blue Shield insurance in Texas,: 73 percent of recruits don’t meet the weight requirements to serve in the United States military.. Not only is this of concern during wartime, but in the event that a mandatory draft is reinstated, American is looking at a dearth of fit adult males ready to serve.
In recent years, the military has relaxed weight requirements in order to maintain its required number of enlistees to keep up with demand as it was fighting two wars. Army recruiter Kathleen Welker says that enlistment has increased since the measures were put into effect, but that the Army has had to lower its standards in order to achieve this.
The rise in unqualified recruits first surfaced in the media several years ago. An article in the Christian Science Monitor highlighted the steps the Army had taken to relax weight requirements for enlistment.
Around the same time, a panel of retired judges and admirals released a report that said the number of recruits rejected because of weight restrictions rose by nearly 70 percent. between 1995 and 2008.
In 2007 the Army introduced a waiver program for new recruits, allowing them to enlist if they didn’t meet weight requirements as long as they pledged to lose weight within a year. Under the program, 1,500 overweight recruits joined the Army that year, out of 80,000 total.
The Army accepts a range of weights for the height of an enlisted person, based on age. For example, a 6’ tall man can weigh 200 lbs. if he is between 17 and 20 years old, 203 between 21 and 27, 206 between 28 and 39 and 210 for men over 40.
But the issue of out-of-shape recruits wasn’t solved. In addition to giving recruits a second chance to comply with weight requirements, the Army had to go as far as to allow recruits to enlist with sub-par strength and endurance stats.
The Army took it a step further in 2010, scaling back the basic training regimen to accommodate the new rash of out-of-shape recruits, according to a New York Times report.
Indeed, not only are Americans becoming more and more overweight, they’re getting less and less physical activity in and out of school. In the past, the Army used distance running, pull-ups and sit-ups as fitness gauges, but no longer.
As part of the basic training restructuring, the Army replaced distance running and sit-ups with exercises that look more like yoga and pilates, according to a CBS news story from 2010.
Even so, many recruits who meet the weight requirements are often too out of shape to complete training due to sedentary lifestyles, in spite of their good genes or decent diets.
“Kids are just not able to do push-ups,” Curt Gilroy, the Pentagon’s director of accessions, told the Army Times that year. “And they can’t do pull-ups. And they can’t run.”
The Army says that these measures have leveled out recruitment numbers and luckily, with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan winding down, there might not be such a need for troops in the immediate future.
But that doesn’t change the fact that Americans as a whole are continuing down an unhealthy path, and we’re now training a less athletic military than ever before.