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Web Exclusive: Too Fat to Fight?

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(CNN/Missionreadiness.org) America's battle against obesity has reached the front lines.  
That's according to a new report that says 25-percent of young Americans, potential recruits for the military, are simply too fat to fight. 

This is not how Mercedes Lipscomb looked a decade ago, when she tried to enlist in the National Guard and was rejected, told she was too fat.  "I'm totally happy they didn't let in at 220 pounds. I think I probably would have died out there," says Mercedes. 

According to a report releasing later this month from a group called "Mission Readiness", 25% of all potential recruits are turned away because of their weight.  The problem is potentially so serious commanders of all ranks, who spearheaded the study, describe it as a potential threat to national security.  "The statistic that blows me away on that is 1 in 4 Americans is too obese, young Americans is too obese to join the military," says Retired Rear Adm. Jamie Barnett. 

Rear Admiral Jamie Barnett and more than a hundred retired generals and admirals warned of the problem two years ago.  In a new, follow-up report, "Still Too Fat to Fight" -- they contend the military is working harder than ever to find eligible recruits.  "More and more we're seeing that those folks showing up at the recruiting centers are not really fit to come into the military," says Barnett.

Hundreds of recruits wind up discharged early-- because of weight-related issues.  "Recruits who have not done as well, who have been over-weight, don't do as well in boot camp and are more likely to not complete their first term of enlistment," says Barnett. 

The cost? Some $60-million dollars a year invested and lost in recruits, and finding replacements.  Military leaders say the problem is reversible.  They're now targeting school lunch programs and vending machines -- pointing to the success of New York City schools in regulating unhealthy food and lowering average student weight.  As for Mercedes Lipscomb, she reapplied to the National Guard after dropping nearly eighty pounds.  

"If you're sent into a combat zone you want to be in shape," says Mercedes.  "You want to be able to maneuver, you want to be able to protect yourself and protect your fellow soldiers. If you're overweight, how are you going to run? How are you going to get away?"

The study hopes to target young generations so when the time comes, they'll be combat ready.  The nation's leaders, hoping to stem the child obesity crisis, so it doesn't become what they believe could be a "National Security Crisis."  

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