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So you want to serve your country? Not so fast, fatty.

A new report by Council for a Strong America found that 31% of potential Army recruits would be disqualified for obesity.

The study, called Unhealthy and Unprepared, found that 71% of American aged 17-24 do not meet the military’s signup requirements. In addition to obesity, other factors that reduce the pool of available recruits include past drug use and lack of academic qualifications.

According to the report, these ineligibility factors are a major reason why the Army is not on track to meet its annual recruitment goals for 2018.

The Costs of Obesity

Even those who do meet the physical qualifications have struggled with weight issues after boot camp. In 2015, 7.8% percent of active duty service members were considered overweight, a 73% increase since 2011.

The military spends more than $1.5 billion each year on healthcare costs related to obesity for active duty and former service members and their families, and active duty members miss more than 650,000 work days annually due to obesity related issues.

Not only does obesity cost a lot of money, it is a threat to national security. “Addressing the obesity epidemic is crucial to maintaining a sufficient all-volunteer force and protecting our nation,” said the report.

A study by the Citadel found that Army recruits with lower levels of physical fitness were 22-28% more likely to experience injuries during basic training, and another study found that active duty soldiers who are obese are 33% more likely to suffer a musculoskeletal injuries like stress fractures and serious sprains.

Encouraging Healthy Habits in Kids

The problem starts early—42% of teens aged 16-19 are overweight, and more and more children are becoming obese, and at younger ages. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 13.9% of children aged 2-5 are already overweight.

The answer, say military officials, is an increased focus on better nutrition, healthy eating habits, and adequate physical activity from an early age. With a better fitness foundation, young adults will be better prepared not just for military service, but for a healthier life.

“Given the high percentage of American youth who are too overweight to serve, recruiting challenges will continue unless measures are taken to encourage a healthy lifestyle beginning at a young age,” said the report.

“Basic training lasts weeks, but building strong troops takes years,” said retired U.S. Air Force general Richard B. Myers. “Encouraging healthy lifestyles early in life will help our nation prepare for future challenges.”

To assess physical readiness and help troops stay healthy, the Army plans to implement the Army Combat Readiness Test in 2020. The test will replace the current Army Physical Fitness Test and  is designed to prepare soldiers for the physical demands of their jobs, and to prevent injuries. The Army also provides guidelines for sleep, activity, and nutrition, and is working to provide healthier food in dining halls for troops.

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