Military: doesn’t want no fatties

I found this: Ex-Military Leaders say: Young adults are too fat to fight to be rather interesting.  What I found interesting was this part from Done with This Shit’s brief analysis and quote of the original CNN article: “The maximum weight depends on the person’s sex, height and age. The Army allows women up to the weight of 241 pounds and men up to 259 pounds.”

I’m just barely over what is listed as the maximum female weight.  And that is now.  And even at 240 pounds I am considered far about that “Morbidly Obese” line. To be fair though, I am not 80 inches tall (6 foot 6). So I guess to join the military I’d either have to lose about 100 pounds of weight or… gain 1 foot of height.

So why are they bemoaning a lack of potential military guinea pigs?  I have a feeling this is a way for the army to displace their dropping admission rates, due to, oh I don’t know, just guessing, but maybe folks not wanting to sign up to head off to war? with a tut-tut aimed at that oh-so-readily available scapegoat of the fatties. Anyone else amused or at least interested in the TV adds now which encourage parents to understand that their enlistment aged children WANT to join the military? As though there is this teeming pool of enlistment eligible candidates who are just jumping at the chance to join up and serve in a war, held back only by concerned parents?  Right.

What made this catch my eye even more was that in college I stopped by a desk of the Peace Corp folks during one of those “Career Fair” events and when inquiring I was told that at 180 pounds I would need to lose a good chunk of weight to be considered. However, this is likely due to the fact that I am not 7 feet tall and thus not “allowed” to have such a girth at this shorter 5 foot 5 inch height.  However, looking online I only found a list of medical conditions (upon which obesity/overweight bodies do NOT appear) for which the Peace Corp would refer applicants elsewhere.  So perhaps that table I have always remembered as Peace Corps’ was instead a military Reserves unit recruiter.  Huh.

Also, from the CNN article I have to point out something else that really bothers me and clearly illustrates many of my issues with such articles about Fatness and how it is the Bane of All Life and Good People:

“It’s not drug abuse, it’s not asthma, it’s not flat feet — by far the leading medical reason is being overweight or obese,” said retired U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. Norman Seip at a news conference.

About 27 percent of young adults are medically ineligible for the military, according to Mission: Readiness, a group of retired admirals, generals, and other senior military leaders.”

Okay so fat is the leading medical reason that 27% of young adults are ineligible for the military.  But read those two statements together as they are and you get the immediate impression that ZOMG!  27% of young adults are just too fat to be in the army!!! But no, what it actually SAYS is that the army is labeling the catch-all excuse “you’re too fat” as the MAIN medical cause that this ENTIRE group of medically in-capable folks are denied (or not acceptable for undertaking) military service.  So this 27% includes those drug abusers, flat footed folks, asthmatics, etc.  Bit sneaky twist of phrasing to further enhance that Obesi-Panic feeling, right?

The whole article is riff with similar conflation of a statistic, followed by a statement that makes a reader try to connect the two with the dangers of Being Fat.  Another example:

Once enlisted, individuals also have to pass annual physical tests.

“We lose upwards to 12,000 young men and young women a year before they even finish up the first term of enlistment,” Seip said. “That’s another person, who has been recruited, trained and left because they’re not able to maintain standards and can’t pass the physical fitness test.”

Retired officials said it’s not about looking good in uniform, but ensuring the future health of the nation.

Okay so we’re talking health and not aesthetics.  Great!  But words and actions don’t seem to add up here unfortunately. Nowhere in these three phrases above did it explicitly mention that fat folks were unable to DO these physical tests.  Or even that those large numbers of folks who drop out because they CAN’T do such tests are so rendered because of gaining weight or simply being Fat.  We’re left as readers to just drop those assumptions right in there.  And yet another article pushes to the forefront of the public consciousness, dragging yet more fuel into the anti-obesity fire in ways that perhaps don’t even push beyond readers’ subconscious common sense KNOWING that “Huh, well yup.  Those damn unfit fatties. Now who’s gonna represent America in future wars!”  Oh, and in case you’re thinking that indeed these guys actually ARE worried about health over appearance; here’s a line directly from the Army’s recruiting website:

“Poor body composition, especially obesity, has a negative effect on appearance, self-esteem, and negatively influences attitude and morale.” (Emphasis mine)

And to be thorough I decided to dig around to find out what the weight requirements actually ARE for the US military.  Here’s what I found. Basically, none of the branches of the military agree on what constitutes an acceptable weight.  Just in my height bracket (65 inches or 5 foot 5) and age (35)  here is the widely differing list of minimum-maximum weights at which I would be considered just fine:

Air Force: 114-165

Army/National Guard: (no minimum)-149

Coast Guard: (no minimum)-169

Marine Corps: 114-165

Navy: (no minimum)-160

So depending on which branch I would want to join, I could weigh anywhere between 0 (zero) and 169 pounds.  As a female.  Some branches, such as the Navy, still make a distinction between allowable weights for equal male/female heights. Any one else find it a bit noteworthy that quite a few branches have NO MINIMUM weight listed?  If health is the main aim here, why discriminate against just us fatties, why not share the fun of such arbitrary cutoffs on the lower end?

So while perhaps the arguments laid out above are a bit rambling, basically I feel that this article noting the bemoaning of ex-military officials on the quality of the available enlistment eligible force in America to ring a bit falsely pinned on obesity and comes across as whining about some sort of Golden Age of a thinner Youth of America.  Sorry but your numbers of qualified fighters isn’t just dropping because the US has just as many fat people now as it did 20 years ago who are the same SIZE yet who fall into different CATEGORIES thanks to moving the bar on what now means “Fat”.  It might though, just a thought, have a bit to do with the public being a bit smarter than you give them credit for not caring for your current marketing strategies on the whole. Or, simply folks who, no matter their views on the rightness of the wars being fought in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere in the world, do not really think that joining the military is a good move at this time, for likely a variety of reasons really.

(ETA: As pointed out below in comments, those who DO join in service to this country are not somehow those easily duped or swindled by military recruitment (though I have a feeling there are always people who join and come to feel that the reality does not match the glossed over picture presented by recruiters).  It was not at all my intention to insinuate by any means that military service is only for those “suckered into it” and sincerely apologize that my original phrasing comes across this way.)

You’d think, if enlistment numbers were dropping and the military needed to up numbers that rather than piss and moan about the country being so FAT that they might consider that their requirements might consider physical fitness above arbitrary charts of size?  No?  Just a crazy thought then…my bad.

As some tasty food for thought I leave you with this lovely quote:

[B]ack in 2004, in the June issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, the CDC had reported that there had been no significant increases in the numbers of U.S. adults or children considered “overweight” or “obese” from 1999-2000 through 2001-2002.

In other words […]: “Obesity Among Adults in the United States — No Change Since 1999-2000.” There has been no statistically significant change in obesity rates for the past 7 years. That’s “obesity.” Not just those a few pounds “overweight.” (Text in brackets which was removed said: “today’s report could more accurately been titled” and refers to the CDC report released in 2007)


13 thoughts on “Military: doesn’t want no fatties

  1. It would appear that the military is grasping at straws, as they have for years, in an effort to explain why they keep falling short of their recruitment short falls. Never a hint of personal accountability… instead they hide behind false statistics and beaurocracy. I was astounded when I learned that it was indeed pure BMI that they used as a requirement for service… even body builders who were too heavy due to pure muscle mass were in trouble!

    • Indeed. I would hold out hope that someone with the power to make suggestions and be heard could bring up such points and push for a more fitness geared set of requirements; rather than fitness and BMI. As has been shown by many folks, BMI does NOT reflect a person’s ability to do sit-ups or be fit! But then again, maybe I shouldn’t hold my breath hoping for that after all…

  2. It sounds like a retread of a few years ago when law enforcement was complaining about the lack of non-fat applicants to their police academies. I don’t think they ever took into consideration that perhaps the reason the numbers of “qualified” candidates were so low is that being a police officer in today’s jaded society doesn’t hold the same level of general public respect it did many years ago. So they wag the dog and blame too many fat people for their problems, instead of looking at other reasons for declining enrollment.

    It would be nice if we would stop using the BMI as the only indicator of health too!

    • Huh I didn’t catch that on the police academies a few years ago. Interesting correlation though between the lowering of respect given to officers and the profession in general and low enrollment. And yeah, again, totally agree and wish that folks would finally THROW OUT the cruddy BMI and height/weight charts to start afresh. Hey, they re-drafted the food pyramid so a girl can hope for a similar re-write of health metrics at some point in the future too, right? Maybe another thing I really should be holding my breath for, huh?

  3. ” It might though, just a thought, have a bit to do with the public being a bit smarter than you give them credit for who, no matter their views on the rightness of the wars being fought in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere in the world, do not really think that joining the military is a good move at this time.”

    Not a fan of this assumption that you have to be dumb or easily swindled by our government to get sucked into the military. Many people who could do anything they want with their life choose to serve for many reasons, and I hate when it is assumed that they must be too stupid to know better.

    Also, just an FYI, if a Marine fails the height/weight requirement at their physical fitness tests they will then be put through tests to determine body fat percentage. So if you are a body builder, while you have to go through extra annoying tests every month, you will not be punished for your BMI. Small consolation, but they do only use BMI as a first step and continue investigation as needed.

    • Sleepykitty you’re right. 😦 I shouldn’t write as though anyone who DOES think to join the military is somehow being swindled. I didn’t mean it to come across that way, but intention does not matter in how it comes across to those reading so my apologies. I was hoping to convey the feeling that many of the ads and gimmicks and marketing ploys aimed at the general public do seem to pander to an idea that those watching are somehow easily swayed by flashy images of Being Great. Still I respect your calling me on this assumption and updated my post to reflect this.

      As to the extra tests I have to wonder why folks would not see this as the silly process it is. Why would you make someone who passes all other fitness tests, take an ADDITIONAL test which only measures the fat percentage; something only tested because your BMI doesn’t fall in some magical “Yes” range? It just continues to baffle me that no one looks at these sorts of set ups and thinks “Hey, maybe we could cut out a bunch of needless testing costs by focusing on the abilities of our enlisted folks, rather than on counting their waist size/BMI/fat percentage, etc”.

      • Excellent point. If they can pass the required run/situp/pullup tests there is absolutely no reason to care what size they are and how much fat they have on them. I don’t know why “obesity” was even part of this article at all. I am sure there are plenty of kids falling within the “normal” BMI range who are also not in good enough shape to pass these tests, and the lack of fitness (not their BMI) is what we should be concerned about (trust me the basic fitness tests to be allowed into the military are NOT difficult). We should be worried about the health of our kids, not some arbitrary numbers, and keeping P.E. and sports programs in our schools instead of cutting funding.

        • Oh I totally agree here. Rather than worrying most about whether there are vending machines offering pretzels in the schools I’d love to see more attention put on school-wide efforts to increase fitness; and not just as some sort of vile punishment thing for fat children either. Everyone would benefit from things like putting recess back into the curriculum and initiating more physical ventures which are fun! Then maybe the military could focus some funds on it too if they were really actually interested in improving fitness rather than just reducing fatness.

  4. My hubby is in the Coast Guard, and the base he’s at has just had a 6 month long crackdown on the FAT!!! problem. It really is a problem for my husband, because at his height and weight, he is “obese” and one inch shorter, he would be “morbidly obese”, according to BMI. Now, he’s got a 37″ waist, and is 6’1″ tall. He rides his bike 7 miles to work and back at least 3 days a week, he was on a diet for 3 months (until I convinced him it was idiotic to bike that far with no breakfast since he was not losing any weight ANYWAY), and still is only 5 pounds under the weight cut. He’s not being kicked out, but he’s constantly being told by the medical staff that he needs to lose more. It is INSANE. At this base, the crackdown is only to make the officers in charge look better (“look, we’re DOING SOMETHING, YAYS!”). They’ve set aside hours during the week, where, instead of working on their planes, they all work out, because this makes the unit more efficient, I suppose…
    And it takes a lot of poking and prodding, at least here, to get the medical staff to allow a fitness test, rather than a fatness test.

  5. It’s hard to keep up with all the mixed messages we’re getting, so I’m not surprised to see this post.
    My favorite thing lately is seeing this on news, and then when they go to commercial, there’s a spot asking for help for America’s food banks. They’re running low and kids are going without.
    So where are all the fatties coming from? Must be all those high falutin families with jobs who are able to purchase all that fattening food.
    Wait.. aren’t they also supposed to be the ones that are smart enough not to get fat in the first place?
    Never mind.. now I have a headache.

  6. There IS a weight minimum for both the Army and the Navy. I got rejected by both branches for not meeting weight standards (10 and 5 pounds underweight).

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s