Army officials say that only about 25 percent of potential recruits are fit to serve.
The obesity problem in America might be having an adverse effect on more than the national health. It might also be hindering the nation's ability to defend itself.
During a three-day visit by first lady Michelle Obama to Fort Jackson last week, Army officials had an alarming message for her. Of the 129,000 recruits each year, they said, about 40 percent are overweight, and only about one-quarter of Americans between the ages of 18 and 24 can qualify to get into the military, with obesity as the primary hurdle.
Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling, the Army's deputy commander for initial training, said today's youth don't get enough physical activity. He thinks they spend too much time watching TV or sitting at computers, and they eat too much fast food.
"It's a generational thing," he said, "and it's going to be hard to change a whole generation."
But that essentially is the first lady's goal. She is the public face for the administration's "Let's Move!" program to combat childhood obesity.
One of her reasons for visiting Fort Jackson was to learn more about how the Army is addressing the problem of overweight recruits. She hopes that some of those techniques might prove useful in schools and elsewhere.
One target is high-calorie sodas. Under the Army's "Go for Green" program, the dining facilities have switched from soft drinks to a "hydration station" and have begun posting nutritional information about cafeteria choices.
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