Is obesity a threat to national security?

While many of us immediately think about the physical and mental health implications of being overweight or obese, I’m sure most of you have never thought about what this might mean for our nation’s security. You might even ask why anyone would. Let me explain…

Protecting and serving our nation—whether as a member of the military, law enforcement, or other civil service—is a physical job. You never know when you’ll need to run, crawl, duck, or jump, just to survive or save the lives of others. And these physical reactions must be quick. When is the last time you saw an obese man or woman move quickly?

Reports show that 1 in 3 Americans is obese. Applying logic, we can estimate that 1 in 3 Americans is ineligible for military service because of his/her weight. A problem?

Yes, a problem.

According to a report published by Mission: Readiness, 27 percent of young Americans are too overweight to join the military. Roughly 15,000 of young potential recruits fail their entrance physicals every year because they are too heavy; thousands of others simply never even try to enter because of their weight.

The percentage of Americans who are overweight or obese is rising rapidly, more than doubling over the past four decades. Likewise, the number of enlistment-age adults who cannot join the military because of weight problems continues to rise. If we continue at this rapid rate, who will be left to serve and protect our country?  Obesity may not be an immediate threat to national security. However, it sure could be by 2030 if we don’t take courageous steps to prevent obesity.

Further, if you combine weight problems with other health problems, over half of young Americans are unable join the military. 32 percent of all young people have non-weight-related health problems that keep them from serving in the military. Add to that those who are ineligible due to lack of high school diploma or having a criminal record, and approximately 75 percent of young Americans are unable to join the military. That leaves only 25 percent of young Americans eligible for military service. Of those, how many are willing to serve?

Pullups for every Marine

 The Marine Corps is known for its high physical standards and demands. The physical examinations for combat entry are brutal, with only the top percentage of our country physically capable of meeting the minimum requirements. Until recently, male and female requirements have differed – females with less stringent requirements. For example, males needed to complete a minimum of 3 strict pullups (20 for a perfect score), while women only had to complete a 15-second flexed-arm hang. These discrepancies are being removed – with males and females in comparable combat jobs expected to attain the same physical standards. New rules now require women to complete a minimum of 3 strict pullups (or chinups).

How many Marines will we have in 2030? If only 25% of our young are eligible for military service – all of which are not willing to serve – how many will be capable of meeting the hard-body Marine Corps standards?

The bottomline

Our nation needs a health revolution and it can start with you and me. Let’s lead by example and commit to being fit and healthy role models for our children and grandchildren, friends and neighbors.


Christeson, W., Taggart, A. D., &Messner-Zidell, S. (2009). Ready, willing, and unable to serve. Washington D.C., Mission: Readiness.


3 thoughts on “Is obesity a threat to national security?

  1. I wasn’t aware that in order to gain entry into the marines you had to do pull ups as a part of the requirement, but isn’t it sad that we aren’t taught anywhere in our education that body strength is as important as nutrition?
    I wrote a similar article not too long ago exploring the concept of childhood obesity and how people in the society today are not informed adequately upfront about the dangers of poor diet and exercise (it’s here if you are interested-
    Great informative piece and we should have more people like you advocating health.

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