Data shows massive rate of military ineligibility among American youth
Last updated 10/25/2022 at 1:35pm | View PDF
The retired admirals and generals of Mission: Readiness are deeply concerned about new Department of Defense (DOD) data showing that the ineligibility rate for military service has climbed to a staggering 77 percent. A new Mission: Readiness fact sheet breaks down the alarming new figure and the threat it poses to our national security.
Mission: Readiness, an organization of nearly 800 retired admirals and generals, focuses on bipartisan solutions that help more young Americans grow up healthy, well-educated, and prepared to serve their nation in any way they choose.
This figure represents a four-point jump from 2017, the last time DOD updated the ineligibility data. It also means that three out of every four young people of prime recruiting age, 17-to-24 years old, are disqualified from military service. This ineligibility rate comes from a variety of factors, with some of the leading disqualifiers being poor physical fitness (especially excess body weight), academic issues, or a history of crime or drug use.
For more than 13 years, Mission: Readiness has highlighted the significant damage this rate of ineligibility can do to our country’s long-term national security. The new data makes it clear that the problem is now even more urgent. Yesterday’s White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health underscores that urgency, as it made clear that reducing hunger, improving nutrition, and boosting physical activity—especially among young people—is essential for the future of our country. One way in which that growing need manifests is this crisis of military ineligibility.
Among the ineligibility factors, the biggest single disqualifier is obesity. Rates of obesity among young people rose steadily in recent years and increased even further during the pandemic. As of August 2020, the rate of obesity among Americans aged 2 to 19 was 22 percent. Obesity is one factor that we must address to ensure that our nation has a fully staffed, healthy military, now and in the future. Reducing food insecurity and malnutrition (including malnutrition manifesting as obesity) is central to achieving that goal.
Because of that need, Mission: Readiness members are today reiterating that nutrition and physical activity programs are imperative to help provide young people with nutritious meals and teach them healthy, lifelong habits as they grow.
“Physical health challenges, including obesity, prevent far too many young Americans from reaching their dreams. For many young people, those dreams include serving their country in uniform,” said Mission: Readiness member Lt. Gen. Norm Seip, U.S. Air Force, Retired. “These new ineligibility figures are a painful reminder of the urgency around making sure that our young people have the tools they need to grow up healthy and prepared for whatever career path they choose, including military service if they so desire. Investments that bolster the health and nutrition of our children are critical to national security and the future strength of our country.”
The retired flag officers who comprise Mission: Readiness’ membership have expressed support for numerous evidence-based policies and practices to expand access to nutritious foods in school lunch and breakfast and community nutrition programs. Together, expanding access to healthy food can make American youth prepared for any career path they choose, including military service. Mission: Readiness urges Congress to make these critical investments in nutrition by passing a bipartisan child nutrition bill and strengthening food programs in the next Farm Bill.