Helping Airmen Stay Fit To Serve

In a time when the military discharges hundreds of troops a year for violating 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell,' another issue is also having an effect on military enrollment.  Some say obesity is now a threat to our military.

This year Mission: Readiness, a group of retired military generals and admirals, outlined the problems obesity cause for the military, and therefore national security.  They estimate about 27% of all Americans between the ages of 17 and 24 are too overweight to enlist.  Since '95, the number of those failing physicals due to weight problems has increased by 70%.  Sheppard Air Force Base says there are several factors.

"Our occupations have gotten more sedentary in nature, so technology plays a huge part in that," said Exercise Physiologist John Martin

"More fast food, we're workin' long hours, we're not eating as many meals at home with our families, so we're eating on the go," said Diet Therapy Technician and Staff Sgt. Peter Brown.

In the Air Force, every airman has a bi-annual physical test that includes sit-ups, push-ups, and a mile and a half run.  But they also have to be under a maximum waist circumference -- 35 point five inches for females and 39 for males.

"If they don't meet that, they'll come and see us and we'll provide them some intervention," Martin said.

They then have 90 days to work up to meeting the physical standards.  But aside from rigorous workouts, diet therapy techs can give struggling airmen help with nutrition too.

"One of our main goals is to educate them on more of a healthy lifestyle change as opposed to the normal fad diets, crash diets," Brown said.

The cafeterias have certain health requirements for their foods, presenting broiled and grilled options, for example, as opposed to fried foods.

Martin says the 'Be Well' class takes an above-all approach to helping people meet the physical requirements.

"Getting each and every airman mission ready. Combat capable, and that's our primary force," he said.

Martin says so far he hasn't noticed any type of increase in airmen who don't meet the physical standards.  He says they try to focus more on prevention than on intervention.

Spencer Blake, Newschannel 6