America’s problem with obesity has spread into a new theater: the U.S. military.
The percentage of age-eligible civilians exceeding the weight and fat standards for admission into United States Military Academies — the undergraduate institutions that trains officers for the Armed Services — has more than doubled for men and more than tripled for women since 1959, according to a new study to be published in December.
The numbers for African-American women are even more shocking. Researchers found that the African-American women in the study were 13 percent more likely to exceed weight standards than white women.
These findings are not unique. Nationally, African-Americans are more likely to be obese than non-Hispanic whites, and African-American women are 70 percent more likely to be obese than white women.
“We wanted to see how the rising obesity rates has impacted the pool of potential applicants,” says J. Catherine Maclean, assistant professor in the Department of Medical Ethics and Health at the University of Pennsylvania.
Maclean and her co-author, John Cawley, a professor at Cornell in the department of Policy Analysis and Management, looked at long-range effects of obesity from a different perspective.
“There is a lot of talk about consequences of obesity, but we saw consequences for the military and military readiness given the physical demand of a lot of military work.”
The numbers suggest the possibility of why there is a growing gap in diversity among military officers.
“We think this is potentially a contributing factor to those disparities,” Maclean explains. “One of the objectives of the military is to have a military that is representative of the [United States], ethnically, racially and gender-wise.”
“[But] we see different groups that are disproportionally more likely to exceed these standards and that is going to have some implications of what the future military will look like by its demographics,” she continues.