Whether you are Democrat or Republican or pledge allegiance to the Galactic Empire, you can’t help but notice that there is a lot of war going on around the world right now and, like it or not, a lot of demand for American participation in those conflicts in one way or another. Iraq is a mess, Israel and Gaza are trying to blow each other up, Syria and the Ukraine are teetering on the brink and Afghanistan is desperately trying to revert to chaos. Don’t even get me started on Orlando Bloom and Justin Bieber.
Fortunately, at least for those of us who have kids of a certain age (or who are of a certain age), we don’t have a mandatory military draft anymore; but we still need people who are willing to serve the country in our Armed Forces. And this is exactly what I thought when I came across an article in the Wall Street Journal entitled “Most Youths Ineligible to Serve Uncle Sam.” The gist of the article is that, “More than two-thirds of America’s youth would fail to qualify for military service because of physical, behavioral or educational shortcomings…”
Wow. The actual statistic is 71%, as estimated by the Defense Department, and that doesn’t include those turned away for cosmetic reasons (note to self: if you want to avoid military service, get a really bad-ass face tattoo).
And the number one reason that people aged 17-24 get rejected from the military? Obesity. About 30% of those are unable to enlist are rejected because they are just too overweight and out of shape to be worth the trouble. As one Major General put it in the article, “We’re trying to make decision makers see this is a national-security matter—and they need to prioritize it. In the past a drill sergeant could literally run the weight off a soldier as part of the regular training program, but now we have young people showing up at the recruiter’s office who want to serve but are 50 or more pounds overweight.”
This is a pretty scary state of affairs. God help us if we got into a situation where we actually needed to raise an army; the kids that showed up to fight would kick ass at Call of Duty and be totally ineligible to be called for duty.
If you have seen the Pixar movie Wall-e, which is about as dark and twisted as an animated movie can get, you see a world where everyone is so fat and out of shape that they move around in hover chairs while eating cupcakes-in-a-cup. No one walks and everyone relies on technology over effort. It’s a pretty dystopian view of the world, but it’s hard not to recall it when reading statistics like this from a recent New York Times article called This is Our Youth:
[In a recent study of 450 kids ages 12-15 by the CDC] “Over all, only 42 percent were as fit as they should have been, given their age, and that percentage fell precipitously among girls. Less than 34 percent of the female participants had fitness levels that would set them within the healthy fitness zone, the testing showed, compared with about 50 percent of boys.”
“The findings grew bleaker when researchers compared the fitness of the group in 2012 to that of similarly aged volunteers from 1999 to 2004. The average fitness of the boys and girls, they found, had declined by about 10 percent since 2004.”
Most disturbing in the article is one physician’s commentary about how the lack of fitness and rise in sedentary lifestyle among children has led his hospital to open a pediatric preventive cardiology clinic. Can you see it now? 12-year old gamers in board shorts sitting next to 55-year-old CEOs in pinstripes, each staring at their cell phones while waiting for their angioplasty. Not a pretty picture.
Thank goodness that so much of modern warfare involves sitting in front of a computer and remotely observing, piloting and shooting because our kids are good at that. The New York Times article reports that, “…children typically spend eight to 10 hours a day in front of a television or computer screen, with their screen time rising in summer, when school doesn’t interfere.”
Of course, this doesn’t even contemplate the cost to the American healthcare system and our national economic productivity if our 12-to-24-year-olds are already fighting heart disease and diabetes and unable to fight to defend our borders. We may not have a lot left to defend if we let this trend continue.