At a time when military recruiters are struggling to fill recruit quotas, an increasing number of Americans are failing to meet minimum weight requirements for military service, according to a study by Prof. John Cawley, policy analysis and management.
According to Cawley, the number one reason that potential recruits are rejected from the armed forces is because they are obese — making up 23 percent of rejected applications — while the second highest reason, marijuana use, constitutes 12 percent of rejectees.
“When the military first started using these weight requirements, they were trying to weed out [those who were] malnourished,” Cawley said, noting that the weight requirement now serves the opposite purpose.
Cawley, along with the help of Johanna Catherine Maclean grad, analyzed historical health data from the Centers for Disease Control.
“Data from nine different surveys, the earliest from 1959 and the most current from 2008, of the [general American] population was analyzed using the current military recruiting standards for four branches of the Armed Forces — the Army, Air Force, Marine Corp, and Navy,” Maclean said.
The findings were published in a paper titled “Unfit for Service: The Implications of Rising Obesity for U.S. Military Recruitment,” by the National Bureau of Economic Research in September.
Cawley said he thinks the health of the general public is relevant to the armed forces, as “militaries [are] always interested in health of civilians that are eligible to draft.”
Cawley cited General Lewis Hershey’s push to implement a nationwide school lunch program shortly after WWII, and the current drive by a number of retired generals to revise the current school lunch program as examples of the military concerning itself with citizen health. He noted that his interest in the army’s health agenda, along with a research history of investigating risky behaviors of youth, led him to the study.
As a result of the growing trend of obesity among Americans, there has been an increased use of machines in the military and privatization of certain services — like security — in order to provide less labor intensive work for potential recruits, Cawley said.
Major Ryan O’Dowd, an Air Force recruiter at Cornell, offered a different view.
“This [is a] public issue of health that involves [all types of programs]; it isn’t unique to [the Armed Forces],” O’Dowd said. “The opportunity for us is we offer an [ROTC] program where students can learn [to live] healthy lifestyles.”
James Rosenthal ’13, an ROTC student, noted that all of the students in his program appear to be in good shape.
“From what I’ve seen, anyone who is at any risk of being below standards works really hard to improve their fitness,” Rosenthal said.