SPECIAL REPORT: Too fat to fight - WTVM.com-Columbus, GA News Weather & Sports

SPECIAL REPORT: Too fat to fight

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(Source: Too fat to fight report) (Source: Too fat to fight report)

The United States military stands ready to protect the American people against threats both domestic and abroad.  But retired leaders say that job is becoming increasingly difficult due to recruitment challenges. 

It's not that there aren't enough volunteers. The problem, according to one advocate group, is that too many young people can't serve because they're obese.

"One year we missed our recruiting objective by over 7,000. And we said, ‘Oh Gosh, the recruiter's not working hard enough.'   Well come to find out, they were working hard enough.  They had enough young volunteers coming to the door wanting to volunteer, but they failed to qualify," said Retired General Jack Wheeler, Mission Readiness

Mission Readiness is a coalition of retired generals, admirals and civilian military leaders who are calling attention to the fitness level of our nation's youth which they say is rapidly deteriorating.  In their research publication, Too Fat to Fight, the mission details what it calls an alarming statistic.

Over a ten year period, the number of obese young people increased by 10% or more in nearly every state.  A few states, including Alabama, even crossed the 50% mark total. Experts say this is due to an increasing reliance on technology and a societal shift towards non-physical activity.

"They're not active with other family members, they're not active with other students, they're not active with their peers.  They're just at home, alone, playing video games and watching T.V," said Kim Bishop, Professional Counselor. 

"When we look at what our intake is of our kids, and the lack of exercise they are getting, that is where we are today as compared to twenty or thirty years ago when kids were eating a lot more fresh vegetables, fresh fruits, and getting a lot more exercise." said Gen. Jack Wheeler.

Opponents of child obesity applaud efforts like the USDA's Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act which requires schools to serve healthier lunches to its students.  We visited high schools in both in both Harris County and Muscogee County to see how those rules are being implemented.  On the whole, students are giving the new menus high marks.

But there are some students who say the diet restrictions go too far.  In the pursuit of promoting healthy eating and bringing down calorie counts, the new standards might inadvertently punish the minority of students who get a high level of exercise.

"The soccer team, last year, we had a group of girls who were not well off financially and after practice they would complain a lot about the food they had at lunch wasn't enough – not that it didn't taste good – it's that it didn't satisfy them completely, or it did but it didn't last long enough," said Margaret Kelley, Hardaway High School Senior. 

Experts who compiled the latest obesity statistics admit that young adults with a large percentage of muscle can throw off the traditional height to weight calculation they use to measure obesity, but the findings are still accurate for the majority of subjects in their study.

If the current trends continue, military leaders say we'll be in trouble if we need to raise a large fighting force in a short period of time.  

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