Unfit for Service: The Implications of Rising Obesity for U.S. Military Recruitment

44 Pages Posted: 4 Jul 2011  

John Cawley

Cornell University - College of Human Ecology, Department of Policy Analysis & Management (PAM); Cornell University - College of Arts & Sciences, Department of Economics; The University of Sydney - School of Economics; National University of Ireland, Galway (NUIG) - J.E. Cairnes School of Business & Economics; NBER; IZA

Johanna Catherine Maclean

University of Pennsylvania

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Abstract

This paper contributes to the literature on the labor market consequences of unhealthy behaviors and poor health by examining a previously underappreciated consequence of the rise in obesity in the United States: challenges for military recruitment. Specifically, this paper estimates the percent of the U.S. military-age population that meets, and does not meet, current active duty enlistment standards for weight-for-height and percent body fat for the U.S. Army, using data from the series of National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys that spans 1959-2008. We calculate that the percentage of military-age adults ineligible for enlistment because they are overweight and overfat doubled for men and tripled for women during that time. We document disparities across race, education, and age in meeting the standards, and finds that a further rise of just 1% in weight and body fat would further reduce eligibility for military service by over 600,000 men and 1 million women of military age. The paper concludes with a discussion of the implications for military recruitment and military policy.

Keywords: obesity, military, labor

JEL Classification: I1, H56, J11, J18, J2, J45, N32

Suggested Citation

Cawley, John and Maclean, Johanna Catherine, Unfit for Service: The Implications of Rising Obesity for U.S. Military Recruitment. IZA Discussion Paper No. 5822. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1877635

John Cawley (Contact Author)

Cornell University - College of Human Ecology, Department of Policy Analysis & Management (PAM) ( email )

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Cornell University - College of Arts & Sciences, Department of Economics ( email )

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The University of Sydney - School of Economics ( email )

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Australia

National University of Ireland, Galway (NUIG) - J.E. Cairnes School of Business & Economics ( email )

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Ireland

NBER

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United States

IZA ( email )

P.O. Box 7240
Bonn, D-53072
Germany

Johanna Catherine Maclean

University of Pennsylvania ( email )

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