Recent reports that the military is
accepting overweight recruits do not tell the whole story. The news reports
would have you believe that enlistment standards have declined. This has drawn
concern from a number of media outlets, but what has been left out is an
discussion about exactly what is meant
by "overweight". In this case, the standard used is one that has led
to some very… well, interesting might be the best word to describe the results.
That said, by not questioning the method that declared the new troops
overweight, the media has managed to pass on yet another misleading story that
reflects poorly on the military.
First of all, the total of overweight and/or obese
recruits was 38 percent. This is up from 30 percent in 1996. This is still a
minority of the total recruits. But even then, one needs to look at just why
these recruits were deemed overweight or obese. The answer to that question is
what ultimately proves this to be a potential non-story that has been easily
twisted by the media.
The media reports about the fat recruits cited the
use of body-mass index to determine if recruits were overweight or not. This is
done by taking one's weight in pounds, dividing it by the square of one's
height in inches, and multiplying by 703. If the BMI is under 18, the person is
too thin. From 18-25, the person is in the healthy range. From 25-30, a person
is considered overweight, and if the BMI is over 30, that person is considered
obese. Sounds good in theory, right? Well, military history is replete with
examples proving that what sounds good in theory may not work that well in the
real world. The BMI is one of those. Why?
All one needs to find the answer is a BMI
calculator (many are available on the web, from interest groups like the Center
for Consumer Freedom and government agencies like the CDC), and a copy of the
roster for one's favorite NFL team. The Body-Mass Index declares many of the
best NFL players on the field today to be in the overweight or obese categories.
One example is all-pro linebacker Brian Urlacher, who weighs 255 pounds and is
six feet, four inches tall. Urlacher's BMI is 31, which makes him obese under
this standard. Lance Briggs, a Pro Bowl linebacker who is six feet, one inch
tall and weighs 240 pounds, has a slightly higher BMI than Urlacher, and is
also obese. See if anyone who got tackled by them believes either linebacker is
out of shape.
Many combat troops and recruits are affected in a
similar manner. Often there is a lot of muscle on troops, who frequently carry heavy loads (as much as 100 pounds for
some) for extended periods of time. The results might be a BMI that declares
the troops to be overweight or obese. In essence, the use of a flawed metric is
enabling the media to fire off stories painting a misleading picture of the
fitness of incoming recruits. - Harold C. Hutchison