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May 23, 2016
by Anne Kip Watson

Too Fat to Fight: U.S. Armed Forces Reduce Standards to Meet Reality

May 23, 2016 12:28 by Anne Kip Watson  [About the Author]

The most preventable cause of death is obesity but it seems even the military is lightening up on this destructive American trend. In recent months, challenged with the potential of losing too many viable sailors, the United States Navy relaxed its body fat restrictions. Those who previously failed their exams three or more times are now allowed to be tested one more time under the more lenient standards. (Watson, 2016).

According to the Navy, career saving tactics to meet previous benchmarks included diet pills, liposuction, and other invasive and non-invasive measures. Before the criteria adjustment, the Navy reported a three to one failure rate on sailors who passed the preliminary test. After the changes, those statistics showed marked improvement as the military aims to advance recruitment and retention rates.

Lowering Standards or Adjusting to Reality?

A recent Pentagon study established that nearly two-thirds of the American population would not qualify to enlist in the armed services as a direct result of obesity, health problems, and inability to get a high school education (Watson, 2016). In a three-year span of time from 2011 to 2014, the Navy kicked out more than twice the amount of sailors - 694 in 2011 to 1536 in 2014.

Navy Secretary Ray Mabus said this move is not lowering standards but adjusting to reality (Watson, 2016). Part of that adjustment is the nature of jobs which gear more towards cyber warfare in which weight would not make a significant difference. For the first time in two decades, the military also is considering larger uniform sizes.

Military Leaders Asking for Junk Food to be Removed from Schools

In a report entitled Mission: Readiness, retired American Generals, Admirals, and other senior leaders of the United Stated Armed Forces aim to do something about what they see as ‘otherwise excellent recruit prospects, some of them with generations of sterling military service in their family history, are being turned away because they are just too overweight’ (Mission: Readiness, Military Leaders for Kids, 2010)

The 16-page report warns Congress of the current and impending problem the obesity crisis has on the United States defense and one that threatens national security. These military leaders believe one chief source of the difficulty centers on the food in our school systems. They want all junk food and high-calorie beverages removed from schools.

The trend towards cleaning up the diet of American schools remains a battle since 2010 when Mission: Readiness first organized and published. In 2010, 86% of high schools had vending machines. Now, according to the National Association of School Nurses, a reported 98% of high schools have vending machines with unhealthy choices such as soda, candy, chips, and other processed items just buttons away from consumption (Martinez, 2015).

The Fix is a Familiar Formula

There is no quick fix for the overweight and obesity problem. It will take a combination of the government, private industries, the food industry, and the American people themselves to change this trajectory. Protecting American lives starts with intervention and education on the home front.

Evidence shows comprehensive programs involving healthier and more nutrient-dense foods, teacher training on exercise and nutrition, and using reward systems for progress leads to kids making wiser choices even outside of school (Mission: Readiness, Military Leaders for Kids, 2010).

Increasing healthier options at schools benefit students to control their weight now and when they are grown. Several private companies have stepped forward to offer healthier vending machine options. Schools who are concerned about losing the monetary benefits of vending machines can still gain financially while providing better options for students (Martinez, 2015). While snack options vary, the healthier vending selections include items more conducive to learning and weight control such as fresh fruit, nuts, yogurt, string cheese, baked chips, pretzels, low-fat milk, and water.

Parents are the Biggest Obstacles

More than likely, the biggest challenge American youth face centers on parents who are in denial about the weight and/or obesity of their children. Parents often do not want to accept they have to change their habits around nutrition and fitness at the same time changing those of their kids.

Dr. David L. Katz, director of Yale’s Prevention Research Center, coined the word ‘oblivobesity’ in describing parents who could not accurately identify their child’s weight and who do not want to accept their child has a weight issue, ‘so, often, it’s easier to pretend the problem’s not there’ (Hoffman, 2015).

Denial or not, the only solution continues to be a lifestyle of clean eating and fitness. That formula does not change and it is not a short term diet plan but a consistent standard of living day in and day out.


Harvard School of Public Health. (2016, May 21). The High Cost of Excess Weight. Retrieved from Harvard School of Public Health:

Hoffman, J. (2015, June 15). Parents' Denial Fuels Childhood Obesity Epidemic. Retrieved from NYTimes:

Martinez, E. (2015, February 18). Healthy School Vending Machines. Retrieved from Livestrong:

Mission: Readiness, Military Leaders for Kids. (2010). Too Fat to Fight: Retired Military Leaders Want Junk Food out of America's Schools. Washington D.C.: Mission: Readiness.

Watson, J. (2016, March 8). Navy lightens up on body fat rules. Dallas Morning News, p. 4A.

Watson, J. (2016, March 6). Navy Loosens Body Fat Rules to Retain Sailors. Retrieved from

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