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Obesity Disqualifies More Navy Recruits Than Drug Use

Paula Wissel
Rear Admiral Annie Andrews heads up recruiting for the U.S. Navy

Navy recruiters have noticed a disturbing trend among young people looking to join up: too many of them are obese.

Rear Admiral Annie Andrews, who is in charge of recruiting for the U.S. Navy, says obesity "has actually surpassed even those with drug use" as a reason for disqualification. In addition to the high rate of obesity, she says, some potential recruits are just plain out of shape. 

Andrews says only about a quarter of people who want to  join the military actually qualify, in part because of the obesity issue. She says the Navy is trying to address the problem by running several pilot programs that let recruits join on a conditional basis.

“Let’s say if somebody may be one to three percent over body fat, we’ll still take them in and let them go to boot camp. And usually within those eight weeks of training, we have gotten them pretty much in shape so they can continue on,” Andrews said.

She says movies like "Zero Dark Thirty" have attracted people to recruiting offices who are all excited about becoming Navy Seals, but again, she says there’s a problem with basic physical fitness.

"It’s hard to be a Navy Seal if the only things your using are your two thumbs on video games," she said. "So we've got to get you out of your chair and maybe do some push ups or sit ups, and running and certain thing."

But Andrews says there are some great things about the current demographic being recruited. She says they’re quite social and like to work in groups — a big plus for the decidedly group-oriented military.

One interesting side note about Andrews: she’s only the third African-American woman to reach the rank of rear admiral.

Paula is a former host, reporter and producer who retired from KNKX in 2021. She joined the station in 1989 as All Things Considered host and covered the Law and Justice beat for 15 years. Paula grew up in Idaho and, prior to KNKX, worked in public radio and television in Boise, San Francisco and upstate New York.