Uncle Sam wants less fat cells, more gray
Scripps Howard News Service
For a look at the state of America’s youth, there’s probably no better resource than the U.S. military, which examines thousands of them every year to fill its recruitment goals.
Unfortunately, the state of America’s youth is not very good, according to Military Readiness, a nonprofit organization largely composed of retired military, the title of whose report this week, “Ready, Willing and Unable to Serve,” pretty much sums up its findings.
The grim numbers: 75 percent of 17- to 24-year-olds are ineligible to serve because they are overweight or undereducated and often both. One in four doesn’t have a high school diploma and one in three is too fat and out of shape. In figures published last spring, 48,000 potential recruits failed to make the weight requirement. Also last spring the military recruiting command predicted obesity soon would be the single biggest bar to youngsters wanting to sign up.
The occupational specialties in the military demand considerable smarts, and the physical standards are no walk in the park: An 18-year-old male is expected to do 42 pushups in two minutes, 52 sit-ups in two minutes and run two miles in 15 minutes and 54 seconds.
The report, ironically, comes as the military is coming off one of its best recruiting years since the draft ended in 1973. It met or exceeded its recruiting goals with a class in which 95 percent had a high school diploma, up from 83 percent the year before.
The reason for that, obviously, is a combination of a bad economy and generous enlistment bonuses, an average of more than $18,000 in the Army. Neither of these is likely to last, and, as Military Readiness warns, “a weak economy is no formula for a strong military. Once the economy begins to grow again, the challenge of finding enough high-quality recruits will return.”
Military Readiness is urging the Department of Education to attack the problem of inadequate physical and mental fitness at the early childhood level and is also urging Congress to pass President Barack Obama’s $1 billion Early Learning Challenge Fund.
It will be a tough challenge. Since more than one in four adults is considered obese by federal standards, the older generation is hardly leading by example. But the problem needs to be addressed because obesity is not only a public health issue it’s becoming a matter of national security.