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Unfit for Service: The Implications of Rising Obesity for U.S. Military Recruitment

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  • John Cawley
  • Johanna Catherine Maclean

Abstract

Excess body weight or body fat hinders performance of military duties. As a result, the U.S. military has weight-for-height and percent body fat standards for enlistment. This paper estimates the number and percent of military-age civilians who meet, and do not meet, the current active duty enlistment standards for weight and body fat for the four major armed services (Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps), using data from the full series of National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys that spans 1959-2008. We find that the percent of civilian military-age men and women who satisfy current military enlistment standards for weight-for-height and percent body fat has fallen considerably. This is due to a large increase in the percentage who are both overweight and overfat, which roughly doubled for men and more than tripled for women between 1959-62 and 2007-08. As of 2007-08, 5.7 million men (11.70%) and 16.5 million women (34.65%) of military age exceed the U.S. Army’s enlistment standards for weight-for-height and percent body fat. The implications of rising obesity for the U.S. military are especially acute given its recent difficulties in recruiting a sufficient number of new high quality service members in the midst of combat operations overseas.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 16408.

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Date of creation: Sep 2010
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Publication status: published as Cawley, John, and Johanna Catherine Maclean. "Unfit for Service: The Implications of Rising Obesity for U.S. Military Recruitment." Health Economics, 2012, 21(11): 1348-1366.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:16408

Note: CH HE LS PE
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Cited by:
  1. Marco Caliendo & Markus Gehrsitz, 2014. "Obesity and the Labor Market: A Fresh Look at the Weight Penalty," SOEPpapers on Multidisciplinary Panel Data Research 631, DIW Berlin, The German Socio-Economic Panel (SOEP).
  2. Guardado, José R. & Ziebarth, Nicolas R., 2013. "A Model of Worker Investment in Safety and Its Effects on Accidents and Wages," IZA Discussion Papers 7428, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).

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