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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.

Suggested Citation

  • John Cawley & Johanna Catherine Maclean, 2010. "Unfit for Service: The Implications of Rising Obesity for U.S. Military Recruitment," NBER Working Papers 16408, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:16408
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    Cited by:

    1. Caliendo, Marco & Gehrsitz, Markus, 2016. "Obesity and the labor market: A fresh look at the weight penalty," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 23(C), pages 209-225.
    2. Hu, Yingyao & Sasaki, Yuya, 2015. "Closed-form estimation of nonparametric models with non-classical measurement errors," Journal of Econometrics, Elsevier, vol. 185(2), pages 392-408.
    3. Cawley, John, 2015. "An economy of scales: A selective review of obesity's economic causes, consequences, and solutions," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 43(C), pages 244-268.
    4. Maclean, Johanna Catherine & Cawley, John, 2014. "The effect of rising obesity on eligibility to serve in the U.S. public health service commissioned corps," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 15(C), pages 213-224.
    5. Petter Lundborg & Paul Nystedt & Dan-Olof Rooth, 2014. "Body Size, Skills, and Income: Evidence From 150,000 Teenage Siblings," Demography, Springer;Population Association of America (PAA), vol. 51(5), pages 1573-1596, October.
    6. 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).
    7. Wilson, Nicholas & Janicki, Martha, 2016. "A cut above the rest? Private anthropometrics in marriage markets," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 23(C), pages 164-179.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • H56 - Public Economics - - National Government Expenditures and Related Policies - - - National Security and War
    • I1 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Health
    • J0 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - General
    • J11 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Demographic Trends, Macroeconomic Effects, and Forecasts
    • J4 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Particular Labor Markets
    • N32 - Economic History - - Labor and Consumers, Demography, Education, Health, Welfare, Income, Wealth, Religion, and Philanthropy - - - U.S.; Canada: 1913-

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