A generation of unfit Army recruits could be posing threats to not just their own health but the country’s national security, researchers reported in the Journal of Public Health Management and Practice this week.
A team led by Daniel B. Bornstein, PhD, evaluated U.S. Army recruits in all 50 states and the District of Columbia in an effort to assess their physical fitness and health. According to the study, all recruits were analyzed based on their times completing a two-mile run and their rates of injury during basic training.
“As we expected, the correlation was quite high,” Bornstein said in a release from the American Heart Association (AHA). “Recruits from states that have been producing worse fitness outcomes were more likely to become injured in basic training.”
The South was the highest-ranked on that list, with the fewest fit recruits residing in a strip of land stretching from Florida to Texas. This wasn’t a surprise, Bornstein and colleagues wrote in their study, since Southern states consistently record dangerous levels of obesity, cardiovascular disease and diabetes. According to the AHA, experts have hypothesized the phenomenon is the result of a mix of poor diet, poverty, restricted access to healthcare, sedentary lifestyles and a tradition of fried food.
These states don’t just pose a threat to themselves and their citizens, Bornstein said—those that are “disproportionately burdensome for public health are also burdensome for our military.”
“We owe it to our military not only to give them weapons, but a good pool of candidates,” he said. “It’s society’s problem to solve. It’s too easy to point to the individual and say, ‘You need to be more physically active.’ We must undertake policies that will create environments that will allow more people to become more physically fit.”
Ways to do this include implementing healthy lifestyle choices at the school level and encouraging fitness in both workplaces and at home, he said, but those measures have been necessary for years. People need to pay more attention to the looming issues obesity is causing the country as a whole.
“Maybe you don’t care about public health or the cost of treating diseases,” Bornstein said. “But if you care about military readiness and national security, you have to care about fitness.”