Weight Problems and Attrition of High-Quality Military Recruits

by Richard Buddin


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Despite recent interest in the physical standards for screening recruits in the Armed Services, few studies have been done on the relationship between recruit weight problems and military personnel attrition. This Note examines the implications of physical standards for restricting the accession of recruits with weight problems and considers whether potentially overweight recruits who are allowed to enlist have higher rates of premature separation from the military than recruits from average weight categories. It presents separate analyses of the relationship between attrition and weight, by Service, gender, and training phase of the enlisted term. The findings indicate that medically overweight men — those with substantially above-average body mass — have much higher training attrition rates than recruits who have no weight problems. After initial military training, weight differences have much less effect on attrition. The author suggests that the Services consider some changes in physical standards and evaluate whether special programs might be cost-effective in mitigating the attrition problems of overweight men in the military. Weight differences among women enlistees have little effect on their attrition rates, perhaps because current physical standards are much more restrictive for women than for men.

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