TUCSON, AZ (TNN) – Fat. Dumb. Criminals. That type of name calling might seem outrageous. But at least to one national security non-profit group, that's what three fourths of young Americans are in some way or another. And it means that many of them can't serve in the military.
The parking lot of Centerpoint at Irvington and I-19 had a group of future soldiers practicing formation and exercise last week. They still had basic training ahead of them. But some of them had to make changes just to get that far.
"Eating better, getting rid of all the sodas, all the sugars, try to exercise more," said future soldier Habacuc Munoz.
Munoz graduated from Sunnyside High School in 2011. When he first showed up at the recruiting office last December, he had 25 percent body fat. The cutoff for the Army is 24 percent.
"From my point of view, if you really want to be in, you'll do whatever it takes and you have to lose the weight or you have to stay healthy, that's no problem," Munoz said.
"Health. Overall," explained Sgt. David Juarez, a U.S. Army recruiter as the future soldiers finished their practice. "Maybe someone's just too big and we could be in a situation where they need to do a 50 yard dash and they have a heart attack."
Juarez has seen an increase in overweight applicants who can't join.
"I'm sure it will continue. Being overweight, it's not necessarily a disqualification. It's just a 'not right now' type of situation," he said.
But this investigation revealed the obesity epidemic is a threat for our future armed forces.
"We literally could eat ourselves out of national security," said retired U.S. Navy Rear Admiral Jamie Barnett.
Barnett is one of 300 retired military members who are part of the non-profit Mission: Readiness, which states in its report "Still Too Fat to Fight" that one out of four young Americans can't serve in the military because they're too big.
"We've got to get junk food and sugary drinks out of schools," Barnett said.
The problem expands beyond schools to the Department of Defense budget, with about a billion dollars a year going to weight-related health problems of service members and their families.
"Our military is still fit, still ready to go. But we've got to do something about this," Barnett said.
Right now, at least, the military can be more selective.
"It's no longer a, well it never should have been and never really was a last resort. People must aspire to join the service," Sgt. Juarez said.
And future soldiers like Habacuc Munoz say they'll rise to the challenge.
"It's up to the individual, if he wants to do it or not," Munoz said.
Sending newly trained soldiers back to boot camp costs us $60 million a year. But the military is making changes, also. Fort Huachuca educates new soldiers in training to healthy eating options in its dining hall, which happens at other forts with basic training also. The Soldier Fueling Initiative has been around about a year.
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