Eau Claire, National military recruiters facing obesity concerns

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EAU CLAIRE, Wisc. (WEAU) - Current and retired military members have their sights set on a new enemy that's keeping new recruits from joining. The Department of Defense said obesity is preventing one out of four young adults from joining the Armed Forces.

Army recruiters said they face challenges in finding new soldiers, but now, many interested in joining, can't because they're overweight, or obese.

"One out of four sometimes, just in this area, there is an issue. We have to tell them, ok, sorry, you don't make it at this time," Army Staff Sgt. Edward Wittig of Eau Claire said.

"If a quarter of the population is too obese to actually become a part of the Army, then that limits the pool that the army can actually recruit from," Brad Frahm of the ROTC in Eau Claire said.

About 300 retired military leaders nationally are making a push to lower childhood obesity. It's part of the Mission: Readiness effort to improve physical education and healthy food access at schools.

Frahm said Wisconsin's Fort McCoy offers a fitness program to get new soldiers in shape and that the ROTC helps out through training.

"We've definitely seen (overweight recruits struggling) quite a bit. There's definitely a lot of people that are interested. We do P.T., physical training, three times a week, and for the ones that need it more, we do four times a week," Frahm said.

Eau Claire recruiters and cadets said those who struggled to meet requirements can still make it through, by changing their lifestyles, with healthy eating and exercise.

"You have to go out of your way to eat healthy, and it has to be very clear in your mind, I'm gonna have a salad today or eat wheat instead of white bread," ROTC cadet Bryan Donovan said.

"My heart goes out to them. No matter what, we still treat them with dignity and respect, it's just these are some obstacles you need to overcome," Wittig said.

A report released by the group finds kids are eating 400 billion extra calories a year from food sold in schools.

The Eau Claire School District said it's been working to make students healthier by offering more nutritional foods and through new fitness assessments.