Make Lunch, Not War

Are one in four Americans really too fat to fight? The figure appears to be inflated.


Fat soldier
geoffrey dorne / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Obesity is the new flat-footed American burning his draft card while hitchhiking to Canada with flowers in his hair. At least that's what a group of retired U.S. generals would have us believe.

The generals, part of a group called Mission: Readiness, are trumpeting a report that claims one in four Americans of fighting age are too fat to fight in the nation's various wars. And they're using the report to enter the battle currently raging in Washington over the USDA's National School Lunch Program (which I've been highly critical of in several columns, including this one and this one).

Reports this week suggest the group will take its case in favor of expanding the school lunch program to the U.S. Capitol next month.

That's not surprising. The National School Lunch Program has been part of federal law since 1946. The primary justification for the program was that it would serve as "a measure of national security[.]"

It's said that President Truman saw fit to launch the program after learning about malnourished U.S. troops who looked more like Steve Rogers than they did Captain America.

There's no disputing that many young American males—our primary fighting force—are obese.

"The same segment of our population that the military wants to enlist is also remarkable in their ability to eat large quantities of unhealthy food," noted a Civil Eats piece on the report in 2009.

It's certainly an issue that concerns the Pentagon.

And it's enough to spur the retired generals to action. The group has released some version of its report several times in recent years. The latest campaign over the report, timed as it is around the school lunch fight, has garnered a good deal of press.

In particular, it appears the press has eaten up the "Defense Department data cited by the retired military leaders."

The report's relevant data, according to citations in the report, come from the 2009 congressional testimony of Dr. Curtis Gilroy, director of accessions policy in the Defense Department's personnel office.

"We have an obesity problem amongst our youth, and we have an education crisis as well," Dr. Gilroy told a congressional committee. "Seventy to 75 percent of young people today have a high school diploma, a bona fide high school diploma. That is a sad state of affairs."

Notably, that's the only mention of obesity in the more than 200 pages of remarks and testimony given by Gilroy and others that day.

"So when we add all of the qualifiers we find that only 25 percent of our young people today age 17 to 24 are qualified for military service," Dr. Gilroy said.

Gilroy also notes that fewer young Americans are interested in serving in the military than they were in years past, and that fewer adults are steering them toward combat.

The Mission: Readiness report notes these and other factors—including criminal records—have made many young Americans unfit to serve. But it's the obesity angle that's garnered the most headlines for the report. Indeed, the numbers are startling.

"About 1 in 4 young American adults is now too overweight to join the military," notes Mission: Readiness.

But the figures used in the report appear to be overstate the problem dramatically. That's according to the Defense Department's own data.

"Today, we recruit from a pool of about 25 percent of young men and women who are even eligible to join the military," said Charles E. Milam, the "acting deputy assistant secretary of defense for military community and family policy at the 2013 American Logistics Association Congressional Caucus and Public Policy Forum," in an American Forces Press Service news story posted at the Defense Department's website last year. "And out of that pool, 27 percent can't even meet basic weight requirements."

Twenty-seven percent of twenty-five percent is approximately seven percent. It's not twenty-five percent. It's nowhere close to that figure.

Of course, that doesn't mean that all those who aren't eligible for military service are not obese. But their data isn't relevant to the report.

Consequently, the Mission: Readiness report should read (charitably) as follows: "About 1 in 4 young American adults who is eligible to join the military is now too overweight to join the military."

If the Pentagon's numbers are correct, then Mission: Readiness has magnified the scope of the problem military recruiters face many times over. Which is not to say recruiters have it easy.

"Military recruiters have an extremely difficult job in any circumstance," says Jason Foscolo, a former Marine officer who is now an attorney with the Food Law Firm. "However, as a former Marine I can say… physical fitness is ultimately a personal responsibility, whether someone is on active duty or preparing for basic training. If achieving and maintaining a standard of fitness is a problem for a person preparing for bootcamp, that person has to face the fact that he or she may lack the self-discipline necessary for a successful military career."

What's more, the push by Mission: Readiness comes at an interesting time, as the Pentagon is currently in the midst of implementing plans to shrink the size of the military to levels not seen since before World War II. Many military officials oppose shrinking the force.

So what does all this mean? First, if the Pentagon's figures are correct, then it appears the most worrisome claims in the Mission: Readiness report rest on flawed data. Second, the military has more than sufficient troop numbers today. That's evident in the fact the Pentagon is shrinking the size of the force.

Finally, expanding a National School Lunch Program that is riddled with fatal flaws is not the answer to problems facing the military (or the country's young men and women, for that matter). Making the case for the program on Capitol Hill isn't the answer. Some battles are worth fighting. This is not one of them.

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  1. …one in four Americans of fighting age are too fat to fight in the nation’s various wars.

    Drone pilots.

    1. Like fast food production and vacuuming my floor – hand it off to the robots. What could go wrong?

      1. Mostly getting stuck under my bookcase.

        1. What, there’s a T-800 stuck under the bookcase?

          1. It’s a 20-ton hydraulic bookcase.

  2. I think there should be a rule that generals, once retired, should be cryogenically preserved so that we can revive them in case of war, but don’t otherwise have to listen to them.

    1. That’d probably be a waste of resources for most of them. For every Chesty Puller or Patton there’s ten Wesley Clarks.

      How about we just make them take vows of silence?

      1. Ah yes Wesley Clark the shithead who almost started WW3 during Kosovo. Luckily the British soldiers involved were smart enough to ignore his orders to shoot at a group of Russian soldiers in the conflict.

      2. If they want to speak out, I think kanshi is the only appropriate method for them to express themselves.

    2. Nah, It’s good to listen to them because they are straight-forward slavers which is easier to counter than the slippery weasel political variety of slavers.

    3. I remember an awesome Sci-Fi short story where they did just that. It was in Pournelle’s “There Will Be War” series.

  3. The only and entire reason for a citizen subject to live, in Amerikkka, is to provide service to the state.

  4. STFU and make me a sammich.

  5. The generals, part of a group called Mission: Readiness, are trumpeting a report that claims one in four Americans of fighting age are too fat to fight in the nation’s various wars.

    Gilroy also notes that fewer young Americans are interested in serving in the military than they were in years past, and that fewer adults are steering them toward combat.

    The Mission: Readiness report notes these and other factors?including criminal records?have made many young Americans unfit to serve.

    Maybe try having less wars? Maybe playing World Cop isn’t a good idea? Maybe we don’t have to have troops stationed in Germany, Japan, Korea, etc?

    1. Not to mention maybe we don’t need a gazillion laws criminalizing everything. Also, they never think to wonder why fewer young people are interested in the military, or that fewer adults are steering them there. What a bunch of dumbasses.

  6. More white privilege as it pertains to Ferguson or something that has been going around facebook. Way to go America, instead of focusing on the deadly force angle you’ve chosen the race angle.

    1. I imagine that at this point that the competing narratives are going to be Evil Racists vs. OMG He was a THUG. That the various factions would focus on the actual problem rather than trying to use it a vehicle for scoring points for the next election was probably a forlorn hope anyway. Maybe it’ll move the needle a few notches, but in the end I expect procedures will be followed.

  7. The Mission: Readiness report notes these and other factors?including criminal records?have made many young Americans unfit to serve.

    The irony here is that when they really need the bodies, the military doesn’t care about any of these standards too much – but especially this one (criminal records).

    How about we address the actual problem of why so many of the youth in this country are being arrested and forced to live with records for indiscretions that their elders (who made the laws in question) were unpunished for?

    You can take a tub of lard, put them in basic, and watch the fat pretty much melt off.

    1. That – On Parris Island graduation day, I saw parents walk right past their sons they no longer recognized. From flabby to relatively hard in 3 months. A few more months of Infantry School finished the job.

      The other irony – officers and NCO’s – all perfectly fit – are being dismissed from the services right now do to cuts. Some are getting the news while deployed.

  8. OT:
    ‘Just a little bit to your left, sweetie!’

    “Artist stands in bay to turn tide against global warming”
    “Her intent was to draw attention to the threat of rising sea levels from global warning.”

    Now, before you get all San Francisco-y about this, note she’s from New York and marvel at:
    “But she vowed not to utter a single word of that – or anything else.”

    1. How do you survive there?

      1. It’s probably a lot like working on a farm. After a while the worst of the smell kinda fades into the background and you only really notice when you step in it. That’s how it is for me in the People’s Republic of Portland, anyway.

    2. The numerical reference in “36.5: A Durational Performance With the Sea” refers to her age when she started the project one year ago…

      So she’s 37 years old? She looks like she’s 57, maybe 67 years old. Yikes.

      Oh, and her ponitless performance art.

      1. All the sunshine and bay breezes — they can do a number on ya!

  9. Try the Bay of Fundy next time.

    1. I read that the ocean levels are rising at 3mm per year. I think a cool project for a performance artist would be to stand his 5 year old kid in the water at the same exact spot, year after year, and take an annual pic of the kid outgrowing the ocean.

  10. Boot camp will fix obesity. Carefully controlled diet and plenty of exercise, those pounds will melt right off.


  12. Number one, we need to lose weight and get fit because, with Obamacare, fat people will cost others (taxpayers) money. Now you’re telling me that my weight is a national security issue?

    It would have been so much easier in the 60s and 70s if the draft dodgers had only needed to eat doughnuts instead of escaping to Canada.

    1. From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.

      And your needs are too great, fatties. Pick up that pickaxe and get to work.

  13. Obesity is the new flat-footed American burning his draft card while hitchhiking to Canada with flowers in his hair.

    What if you’re obese AND bald? Where do you stick the flowers then?

    1. In the hot-dog pack looking fat rolls where our heads meet our necks.

      1. jesus! I’m so glad I wasn’t eating a hot dog while reading that, I fecking laughed out loud…LOL!!!

  14. These pretzels are making me thirsty!

  15. Now that sounds like a plan to me dude.


  16. This is all part and parcel of the over arching notion that individual citizens have an affirmative duty to maintain their ability to be resource units for the state.

    It is the idea that the state (or nation or society, whatever) has an affirmative claim on everyone’s life to be a contributor to collective goals that were unilaterally determined to be such by self appointed elites.

    It is the same dynamic evident in laws making drugs illegal. Drug use is perceived to impair one’s ability to achieve their maximum potential and therefore not being as effective a resource for the state as they could and should be.

    1. Individual citizens do have an affirmative duty to support the state, nation, society, etc. Human beings are social animals and cannot survive outside of the cooperative context of society. Justice is the social condition that makes this cooperation possible, and justice cannot be expected from others unless the individual is willing to provide it to others. Each individual has an affirmative duty to provide justice for others. The state is the institution that defines and implements justice for a nation or people and therefore the individuals thereof have an obligation to support the state.

      1. Wrong on every single count.

        The only obligations that individuals have are negative obligations.

        To refrain from doing harm to others, stealing their property or cheating them in a business arrangement.

        That is all.

        1. Really? No obligation to provide a home and education to one’s children? No obligation to pay back the money one has borrowed? I don’t think you will find too much agreement for this assertion – which is all that it is.

          But, where do you think these “negative obligations” that are binding on us come from? Why should we refrain from doing harm to others? And why wouldn’t that same reasoning (whatever it is) create an obligation to actively prevent others from being harmed – that is, to actively support justice within the community to which we belong?

          Or is this just an empty assertion? In which case I have as much authority to assert the contrary, especially in as much as I at least gave a good reason for my assertion.

  17. As an Army officer, I can tell you that the problem has less to do with obesity and more to with lack of physical activity. Many young men and women that want to enlist are not used to the strenuous activities needed to make it in the combat arms. Their bone structure and supporting ligaments and tendons are not strong enough and we have seen a lot of injuries because of that. We can build cardiovascular endurance and strength in the muscles but bones, ligaments and tendons need years of use to develop properly. Those parts seem to the the parts that fail when they are asked to perform. Most kids used to play some sports and the ones that do still perform very well. But I think there is a growing disparity between kids/young adults who remain physically active and those who think the best way to prepare for being a Soldier is to play Xbox. It has certainly made it challenging to train them.

    And there has been a lot of comments along the lines of “Stop getting into unnecessary wars”. I couldn’t agree more – however, these two things are not linked. We still need a strong military and this is a real problem for those young adults who desire to serve in the armed forces.

  18. RE: Twenty-seven percent of twenty-five percent is approximately seven percent. It’s not twenty-five percent. It’s nowhere close to that figure.

    The report makes very clear that the two figures are two independent estimates for the same general population, not “Twenty-seven percent of twenty-five percent”.

    Note these two statements from footnote 8 of the report:

    * The Accession Command’s estimate that 27 percent of 17- to 24-year-old Americans are too heavy to join is based in part on a survey done for them by the Lewin Group in 2005.

    * Based on the NBER analysis, we conclude that approximately 23 percent of adults eligible by age would not be able to join the Army because of excess body fat.

    I’m wondering if Linnekin is just too lazy to actually look into the sources before writing an “expose” or if he did know the two figures were independent and just chose to ignore that since he would otherwise not have a story.

    The report: http://missionreadiness.s3.ama…..Report.pdf

  19. I strongly agree with “expanding the school lunch program to the U.S. Capitol”.

    We should expand it to include the White House and Pentagon too!

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