Is Obesity a National Security Issue?
"The single biggest disqualifier is obesity," says the general in charge of the U.S. Army Recruiting Command. Ten percent of eligible young people ages 17-24 applying to fight for our country are too obese or otherwise unfit to join the military. In an interview with CNN, Maj. General Allen Batschelet points out that while there are other factors which may limit a young person's acceptance into the armed services, obesity is the most troubling. The military projects that by 2020, up to 50% of young people may be too overweight to serve our country. "It's really very worrisome. I don't know that it's fair to call it a crisis just yet," says the general, "but I think it's quickly approaching one." He continues, "It really becomes a national security issue. ... It's not a military problem; it's a societal issue."
The Army is concerned because it views obesity as a trend, but it is doing what it can to combat the problem. Army recruiters have become fitness coaches. The Future Soldier Program is being structured so that a young person who desires to join the Army but isn't eligible due to weight can begin the enlistment process and then work to be accepted into basic training. They will be able to meet with the recruiter three or four days a week to receive coaching and workout advice in order to help them attain an acceptable fitness level. Gen. Batschelet points out that recruits who are motivated to successfully lose weight in order to join the military are very attractive candidates because of the determination and commitment they exhibit.
The Army recognizes that the minimum fitness standards it requires are becoming uncommon in today's society, with seven out of ten young people between the ages of 17 and 24 ineligable to become soldiers, and the realities of an increasingly obese society are forcing the organization to reevaluate the fitness levels needed for various assignments. In a separate interview with the Florida Times-Union, Gen. Batschelet described the perspective the Army is considering as it looks to the future. "Today, we need cyber warriors, so we’re starting to recruit for Army Cyber. ... One of the things we’re considering is that your [mission] as a cyber warrior is different. ... Maybe you’re not the Ranger who can do 100 pushups, 100 sit-ups and run the 2-mile inside of 10 minutes, but you can crack a data system of an enemy. ... But you’re physically fit, you’re a healthy person and maintain your professional appearance, but we don’t make you have the same physical standards as someone who’s in the Ranger Battalion."
Other branches of the military are also adapting to the "growing" U.S. population. The Military Times reports that the Navy has broadened its definitions for fitness to serve because it has been losing too many talented sailors in recent years. According to the report, "The number of sailors booted from the Navy annually because they did not meet physical standards has more than doubled from 694 in 2011 to 1,536 in 2014," and that the Navy is "considering larger uniform sizes for the first time in two decades." In light of these realities, the Navy is debating whether the physical requirements necessary to perform a specific job should be taken into consideration when evaluating service members. Further, there is some (erroneous) belief that people today "are bigger, but not necessarily fat." Within the organization there are those who argue that although societal obesity is a problem as evidenced by the percentage of teenagers considered "too fat to join the military," irrelevant and out-of-date standards are equally to blame for the Navy's personnel problems. In order to adjust to modern realities, the Navy has increased its maximum allowance for body fat to 26 percent for men and 36 percent for women.
In 2013 the Air Force made allowance for airmen who fail to meet standards for abdominal circumference. Those airmen can undergo a body mass index screening as long as they pass their physical training test. The Air Force has said it is not anticipating any further changes. However, both the Marine Corps and the Army are "considering major overhauls to their physical training criteria."
As I read about the reality facing our armed forces, I'm both saddened and alarmed by what this means for our country. Obesity doesn't have to stop our dreams, sabotage our careers, or threaten our nation's security. Obesity is not an inevitable part of aging, nor is it a "healthy" or "normal" condition for people of any age or body type. I'm struck by the contrast between the struggles of the Navy sailors and the success I've seen with my mid-career patients. Drew Fout is an example of a patient who has optimized his health and returned to his high school weight. Recently, he enjoyed a trip back to him mom's house where he put on his old letterman's jacket for the first time since the 1990's. Drew has discovered the power of a low-fat, whole-food plant-based diet to return us to our youthful weight. It would seem that active military personal and prospective recruits would benefit from learning what Drew has learned.
The answer for our growing military waistlines is the adoption of a vegan, oil free, whole-food, plant-based (WFPB) Starch-Smart® dietary regime. At this point in time, "very difficult", is the answer to the question Is it possible to eat a vegan diet in the military?. That said, it is NOT impossible!
When all the weight-loss diets are tested scientifically, people lost the most weight long-term (and gained the best health long-term) on an oil-free vegan diet of whole unprocessed foods. If veganism is the answer to the military getting enough fit, strong recruits, maybe the military could tone down the discrimination against vegans in uniform? Stories exist of the entire company of soldiers being required to do push-ups if anyone requested being permitted a healthier, plant-based meal. Let’s keep putting the science out there so that more people will learn that the healthiest way to eat is the Starch-Smart® way. For that, our national security may thank us one day.
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