The 2018 budget recently passed by Congress calls for increasing the size of the military by about 26,000 people by October 2019, and up to 53,000 by 2023. However, increasing it by more than 50,000 troopers may prove more difficult than many suspect—and for a surprising reason.
The problem is that there are just too many overweight—if not obese—people in the 17 to 24 age group, which is the group that typically signs up for military duty.
“We all have this image in our minds of these hearty [young] American citizens, that can do anything,” says Lt. Gen. Tom Spoehr, author of a paper on military recruiting challenges. “That image we keep in our heads is no longer accurate.”
It is estimated that three quarters of Americans in this 17-24 age group are ineligible for military duty. This means, of the estimated 34 million people in this age group, more than 24 million don’t meet current enlistment requirements.
They may have other problems as well, such as criminal records, health issues such as asthma, or poor or lack of education. But weight-related issues are at the top of the list.
According to Spoehr, obesity and the percentage of America’s youth that are overweight have caught many people in the military by surprise. “It has just skyrocketed in the past 10 to 15 years,” he adds.
Some have urged the military to loosen-up its rules regarding acceptable weight, allowing more “just overweight” young people to join the armed forces. However, many are opposed to relaxing military standards.
“There are many reasons for this weight problem in the U.S.,” says Jill Carte with DayMark Safety Systems. “Kids today are not out playing sports as much. Instead, they’re at home playing with their smartphones. And school menu planning all too often needs some refining as well.”
Carte says revisiting cafeteria menus is important because so many American children now have both breakfast and lunch at school.
“Many [of these] menus are older and do not consider that young people are much more sedentary today than those a decade or more ago. They must also take a closer look at how much sodium, fat and calories are in the food items because these are related to weight gain and obesity as well.”
Years ago, such menu planning would be very involved and time intensive. In fact, some sports nutritionists years ago would have to “dissect” the food their athletes were eating to ensure they were eating properly and getting the “fuel” they need.
This meant working late into the night, using computers and spreadsheets to determine the nutrient counts found in the food their athletes consumed.
“It’s much easier today,” says Carte. “Menu management systems can analyze [food] menus and determine these nutrient metrics literally in seconds. This allows them to make changes to menus, reducing fat and calorie counts, for instance, without sacrificing good taste or quality.”
While these menu management systems may not be able to address the weight and obesity problems the military is grappling with right now, they should be able to help turn things around in the future.
“This is a very complicated issue,” adds Carte. “But taking a very close look at school menu’s is a perfect place to start.”
For more information on menu management programs for schools and all types of food service organizations, contact a DayMark representative.