America’s Growing Waistline: Can it Handle National Defense Duties?

It’s no secret that America has been battling an obesity epidemic for the past several decades. This alarming trend has led to an increase in health issues, such as cancer, diabetes, and heart disease among American citizens. However, the extent of this problem stretches beyond individual health, posing a significant threat to our national security.

The Declining Number of Eligible Military Recruits

An eye-opening study at Cornell University revealed that between 2007 and 2008, almost 6 million men and more than 16 million women of military age in the U.S. weighed too much to qualify for service. Over the last 50 years, the number of men in this age group who are too overweight for U.S. Army enlistment standards has more than doubled. For women, that same figure has more than tripled.

According to researcher John Cawley, “Almost one in four applicants to the military are rejected for being overweight or obese — it’s the most common reason for medical disqualification.” This decrease in the number of eligible men and women creates a significant strain on our military and, in turn, has a substantial impact on the nation’s ability to defend itself.

The Growing Impact on Our National Defense

The shrinking pool of available and eligible recruits has led to several consequences for the United States military and the country’s overall defense capabilities. As our armed forces face greater challenges with recruitment, their overall readiness to respond to both domestic and international threats is also affected.

For example, the Army, which is the largest branch of the U.S. military, has struggled to meet its recruitment goals in recent years. In 2018, the Army fell short of its target by about 6,500 recruits. To address this issue, the Army has relaxed its standards for new enlistees, including those related to fitness, education, and criminal history, as described in a USA Today report.

The Army has also been forced to implement measures that previously may not have been necessary. In 2017, it introduced a new fitness test that focuses on more real-world combat situations to better train recruits, as outlined in Military Times. However, there is still a wide concern that these changes may not be enough considering the growing obesity problem among potential recruits.

The Need for a Cultural Shift

The obesity crisis in America and its detrimental consequences on national security call for a significant cultural shift. This transformation must begin with addressing the root causes of obesity, which include increasingly sedentary lifestyles and unhealthy eating habits.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) highlights the importance of a balanced diet and regular physical activity in achieving and maintaining a healthy weight. Public health initiatives, such as the Let’s Move campaign, have sought to encourage healthier lifestyles by promoting physical activity and nutrition among children and their families since 2010.

Schools and communities play a pivotal role in promoting a healthier lifestyle for children and adolescents by offering access to nutritious meals, opportunities for physical activity, and education on healthy choices. The CDC’s Whole School, Whole Community, Whole Child (WSCC) model provides a comprehensive framework for schools to improve their students’ health and well-being.

In addition to efforts targeted at younger populations, workplace wellness programs can encourage and support employees in adopting healthier lifestyles. The CDC’s Worksite Health ScoreCard is a tool that employers can use to assess and improve their worksite health policies, practices, and benefits.


The consequences of America’s weight problem reach far beyond individual health issues, extending into our nation’s ability to defend itself. Building a healthier society and reversing the obesity epidemic requires an all-hands-on-deck approach involving individuals, families, schools, workplaces, and communities.

By prioritizing and investing in public health initiatives, promoting healthier lifestyles across all age groups, and implementing strategies to encourage physical activity and nutritious food choices, we can make a positive impact on our national security. Ultimately, ensuring that future generations of American citizens are physically fit and ready to serve in our country’s defense forces when called upon.