Too fat to serve: Military wages war on obesity

Obesity, they say, poses a threat to national security.

The Pentagon spends more than $1 billion a year on medical care relating to weight and obesity. And America's growing weight problem means finding new troops fit enough to fight has never been more challenging.

Army recruiter Sgt. Laura Peterson says America's growing waistline is shrinking the pool of those qualified to serve.

"I've definitely seen the problem getting worse," she said. "The population has gotten bigger. They don't move as much."

Among 17- to 24-year-olds, 27 percent are too overweight for military service. Over the past 50 years, the number of women considered ineligible due to weight has tripled, and the number of men has doubled, officials say.

Retired Rear Adm. James Barnett has said of obesity, "(It's) not just a major health issue for our nation; it's also become a national security issue."

And these days, it's a battle the military is taking up. Teaming up with more than 300 of his colleagues, Barnett is fighting the war against obesity with a powerful ally: first lady Michelle Obama.

In February, Mrs. Obama announced sweeping changes to improve nutrition standards for 1.5 million troops and 1,100 military dining facilities across the country.

The Army now requires nutrition education as part of its basic training.

Barnett said, "When you talk about nutrition, you talk about healthy bodies, but you also talk about healthy minds. Nutrition affects strong bodies, strong minds. We need both."

Military officials monitor soldiers to make sure they're fit enough to fight on a consistent basis. Recruits who can't keep the weight off may be kicked out of service.

For more on weight in the military and in America at large, watch the video in the player above for Whit Johnson's full report and a "CBS This Morning"discussion with celebrity chef Jose Andres, an advocate for child health and nutrition in America.

  • Whit Johnson

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