A soldier saluting

Unfit to Serve

Obesity and Physical Activity are Impacting National Security

The Problem

Approximately 1 in 5 children and 2 in 5 adults in the United States have obesity.

A young man with obesity

Just over 1 in 3 young adults aged17-24 is too heavy to serve in our military.1

A girl playing basketball

Among the young adults who meet weight requirements, only 3 in 4 report physical activity levels that prepare them for challenges in basic training.

Consequently, only 2 in 5 young adults are both weight-eligible2 and adequately active.3

“The military has experienced increasing difficulty in recruiting soldiers as a result of physical inactivity, obesity, and malnutrition among our nation’s youth. Not addressing these issues now will impact our future national security.”

Mark Hertling, Lieutenant General, U.S. Army (Retired)

Ineligible to Serve

Map of the United States

In 2018, 71% of young people in the United States would not be able to join the military if they wanted to.

3 most common reasons young people are ineligible.

or obesity

Graduation cap

Educational deficits


Criminal or drug
abuse record

Individuals in the 17-24 age range account for 90% of military applicants.

Obesity Impairs Military Readiness


19% of active-duty service members had obesity in 2020, up from 16% in 2015.

These individuals are less likely to be medically ready to deploy.
Between 2008 and 2017, active-duty soldiers had more than 3.6 million musculoskeletal injuries.
One study found that active-duty soldiers with obesity were 33% more likely to get this type of injury.

“Fit and healthy service members are vitally important to the military because lives and our national security are at stake stake.”

General Richard E. Hawley, U.S. Air Force (Retired)

Obesity and Physical Inactivity is Costly


$1.5 Billion
Per Year

The Department of Defense (DOD), our nation’s largest employer, spends about $1.5 billion annually in obesity-related health care costs for current and former service members and their families, as well as costs to replace unfit personnel.

Lost workdays due to overweight and obesity for active-duty military personnel is 658 ,000 days per year. This costs the Department of Defense $103 million per year.

Work station with laptop

658K Days
Per Year

Physical inactivity is associated with costly basic training discharge across the services.

Making States and Communities Healthier Can Help Build A Strong Nation

States and communities can impact the health and well-being of current and future service members by:

A group of people exercising

Promoting community designs that support inclusive, safe, and accessible places for people to be physically active in communities with high populations of service members.


Increasing the availability of healthier foods and beverages on military bases and in the surrounding communities where many services members live.

“If we don’t work to build a healthy foundation for today’s young people, both the military and our nation will pay the price tomorrow.”

Richard R. Jeffries, Rear Admiral, U.S. Navy (Retired) and former Medical Officer of the U.S. Marine Corps

We Are Making A Difference

CDC and its partners, including the National Association for Chronic Disease Directors, are working together to create healthy communities that support service member recruitment, readiness, and retention by:

Soldiers saluting

Connecting military communities with state and local public health experts to identify and tailor strategies that can prevent chronic disease associated with poor nutrition, lack of physical activity, and obesity.

Identifying opportunities to implement strategies that can help prevent health risk behaviors among service members and their families.

Educating DOD providers (e.g., clinicians, family programs) to better connect service members with national and state public health resources.

  1.  “Too heavy” refers to a BMI of over 27.5
  2. Weight-eligible refers to a BMI between 19.0 and 27.5
  3. Adequate physical activity for entering basic military training was defined as ≥ 300 minutes/week of equivalent moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity from all domains, consistent with guidance from the US Army Pre-Basic Combat Training Physical Training Program and the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, 2nd edition
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Connect with Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity