April 22, 2015

“Soon, America will be too fat to fight.” The CNN headline makes for what is potentially a scary situation, but it does bring to light the problem of escalating obesity in the States.

We’re not too far behind.

Amongst the applicants for serving in the US Armed Forces, 10% fail due to obesity. And no, the military is not discriminating on the basis of size. These people are not physically fit enough to go through the rigours of basic training.

With the incidence of obesity on the rise, Maj. Gen. Allen Batschelet, of the US Army Recruiting Command, says that by 2020, only 2 in 10 applicants would qualify to join the Army. This obviously has the potential to leave US security in a somewhat tenuous position.

Obesity’s impact is usually viewed as an individual’s problem. This report makes us consider the wider impact, not just on the community in terms of increased health costs, but on national security.

Sure, CNN’s headline was sensationalist. That’s the role of a headline: to draw our attention to an article. Reading this article is interesting in that it reports on the changing role of Army recruiters. By necessity, they have been forced to become more nurturing and supportive of candidates. Maj. Gen. Batschelet says that recruiters are now also playing the role of fitness coaches, who help candidates with their eating and exercise in order to prepare them meet the criteria for recruitment.

The author of the CNN article questions why the problem has become so great. With all the warnings to the contrary, Americans “continue to eat too much and exercise too little”, and she suspects that the real problem is that they just don’t care. They have become comfortable with their increased size.

Whether or not this judgement is true, many people are definitely not comfortable with their increased size. For some this is an issue of physical discomfort, for others it’s vanity, and still others have significant health problems associated with their extra weight.

Labels and accusations do not help in getting people to make lifestyle change that can lead to physical change. A supportive and nurturing environment is far more conducive. Mistakes, of course, will be made in the early stages of change, and for many they continue regularly throughout. A positive environment of encouragement and understanding is often what’s needed.

This is where US Army recruiters appear to be doing the right thing. It’s a government department leading the way with positive health and lifestyle change. It may now be opportune for other government departments to follow suit, both in the USA and here.