Physique has long defined the perfect soldier. But it used to be that flat feet or bad eyesight kept eager high school grads from joining the military. Now it's obesity.
During World War II, men were denied entry to the service for being too scrawny. But since fatty foods have become mainstream in school lunches, that's no longer the problem.
According to a recent report by retired military officers, high school students—stuffed from years of cafeteria pizza and french fries—are graduating with bodies too portly for the service.
The military officers who filed the report, titled Too Fat to Fight, head a group called Mission:Readiness. They are badgering Congress for change, declaring teen obesity a "national security threat."
Obesity has been a thorn in the military's side in more ways than one. Beyond recruitment, replacing service members who have gained too much weight to pass routine fitness tests costs the military millions of dollars each year.
To combat the problem, Mission:Readiness is pushing for the passage of a nutrition bill that would make school lunches healthier and bump up the physical education curriculums in public schools. They are asking Congress to eliminate junk food and high-calorie drinks in schools, increase funding for school lunches, and develop curriculum to teach children healthier habits.
Not everyone is on board with the military's claims. Daniel Engber at Slate, in his article "Not Too Fat to Fight" argues that this is a thinly veiled scare tactic designed to promote the military's agenda. He says that the supporting data Mission:Readiness presents is skewed in the group's favor, and he questions whether there is really a shortage of soldiers at a time when the military claims a fourth consecutive year of meeting or exceeding recruitment goals.
Engber may be right. But he also says getting fit and eating right is good for today's youth, for more obvious reasons like health. And he's right about that, too. A healthier, fitter generation may or may not stave off the threat of international terrorism, but it will surely ward off heart attacks, diabetes, and high cholesterol here at home.