A new study from the Pentagon shows that 77% of young Americans would not qualify for military service without a waiver due to being overweight, using drugs or having mental and physical health problems.
A slide detailing the findings from the Pentagon's 2020 Qualified Military Available Study shared with Military.com shows a 6% increase from the latest 2017 Department of Defense research that showed 71% of Americans would be ineligible for service.
"When considering youth disqualified for one reason alone, the most prevalent disqualification rates are overweight (11%), drug and alcohol abuse (8%), and medical/physical health (7%)," the study, which examined Americans between the ages of 17 and 24, read. The study was conducted by the Pentagon's office of personnel and readiness.
Mental health accounted for 4% of disqualifications, while aptitude, conduct or being a dependent accounted for 1% each. Most youth, 44%, were disqualified for multiple reasons.
The updated figures paint a picture of what is currently plaguing military recruiters in many of the service branches, with a shrinking pool of potential service members available to them.
Maj. Charlie Dietz, a Department of Defense spokesman, confirmed that the study shared with Military.com was accurate and said all the services are being challenged by the current recruiting environment.
"There are many factors that we are navigating through, such as the fact that youth are more disconnected and disinterested compared to previous generations," Dietz said. "The declining veteran population and shrinking military footprint has contributed to a market that is unfamiliar with military service resulting in an overreliance of military stereotypes."
Lawmakers have been raising the alarm over the recruiting environment throughout the year. Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee personnel panel, said during an April 27 hearing that he was worried the widespread ineligibility of many Americans will contribute to readiness problems.
"To put it bluntly, I am worried we are now in the early days of a long-term threat to the all-volunteer force. [There is] a small and declining number of Americans who are eligible and interested in military service," Tillis said. He added that "every single metric tracking the military recruiting environment is going in the wrong direction."
The Council for a Strong America, a nonprofit organization made up of retired military officers, law enforcement and business leaders that advocates for better nutrition and healthy lifestyles among kids, issued a press release expressing alarm at the findings.
The group called on lawmakers in Washington to take action so that younger generations would qualify for military service.
"The retired admirals and generals of Mission: Readiness recognize that the underlying causes of obesity cannot be solved by the efforts of the military alone," the Council for a Strong America said in a statement. "With an increase in youth being ineligible for military service, it is more important than ever for policymakers, including state and local school boards, to promote healthy eating, increased access to fresh and nutritious foods, and physical activity for children from an early age."
Dietz told Military.com that the Army and most of the service's reserve components are in jeopardy of missing their FY2022 recruiting goals.
-- Thomas Novelly can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @TomNovelly.