My husband Francis, like me, has struggled with his weight all his life. When he was a kid, his mother shopped for his clothes in the “husky” section. And during his 28 years of active duty Navy service, he found it stressful when it was time to be weighed and measured for fitness tests.

Thanks to fasting, extreme exercise, sauna visits on the eve of tests and mastering the art of sucking in his gut while bulging his neck, he never failed a test.

He had a few close calls, like during his yearlong deployment to Djibouti, when he worked 14-hour days indoors, out of the searing African heat. By the ninth month of his deployment, he’d gained 20 pounds on chow hall food. His commanding officer told him, “You’re too good to screw up your career. Lose some weight.” He took that advice to heart.

But today, the Navy’s recruiting and retention numbers are so abysmal, it’s reducing or eliminating standards as it faces major force reductions. All the while, experts predict that war with China over Taiwan is imminent. Although the other branches have managed to stay ahead of the Navy’s recent deficits, they’ve also implemented changes to combat recruiting and retention challenges.

Why is it so hard to recruit and retain citizens to serve our country? Are young people in America less patriotic? Do they think they can make more money in a civilian job? Are current military men and women more likely to leave for financial reasons?

The answer to all those questions seems to be “Yes.” However, another factor has impacted military recruiting and retention even more — The American obesity crisis.

In the 1960s, only about 13 percent of Americans were considered obese, but in 2023, that figure is 43 percent. Childhood obesity has also tripled, and morbid obesity rates have grown tenfold. When you add in Americans with a BMI over 25, 74 percent of our population is currently considered overweight.

Findings in a 2023 white paper, “Combating Military Obesity: Stigma’s Persistent Impact on Operational Readiness,” indicate that 68 percent of active duty military are overweight or obese — double from ten years ago. This problem “is the leading disqualifier of military applicants and a primary contributor to in-service injuries and medical discharges.”

The paper recommended increased “awareness, diagnosis and treatment of obesity as a chronic disease across the armed services” and an aggressive, consistent approach to handling the crisis, to include referrals to obesity and bariatric physicians.

The military has tried to combat recruiting issues by enrolling potential enlistees in fitness programs. The Army’s new Future Soldier Preparatory Course and the Navy’s Future Sailor Preparatory Course are promising.

However, other initiatives garnered widespread criticism. In 2017, the Navy canceled pending discharges for 48,000 sailors who failed fitness tests. Despite receiving flak, the Navy did it again in 2023. And this year, the Navy will allow recruits without high school degrees to sign up, if they score at least 50 out of 99 on the Armed Forces Qualification Test. If being overweight or obese are the top disqualifiers, one would think that weight loss drugs would be considered before signing up recruits without basic education credentials.

In 2018, the Defense Health Agency approved the use of weight loss drugs such as phentermine, liraglutide and orlistat in the military, and Tricare agreed to cover the cost for beneficiaries meeting qualifications. Eventually, Wegovy, Ozempic, Mounjaro and Zepbound were added. According to a 2024 study conducted at the Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences, the prevalence of weight loss medication use in the military between 2018 and 2023 has skyrocketed from 1 to 104 per 100,000 service members. However, soldiers and sailors remain largely unaware that they might qualify for pharmacological treatments for weight loss.

Here’s an idea: take the $1.5 billon cost of military obesity and invest it in Ozempic supplies. Ramp up obesity identification and treatment within the ranks, and launch new military ad campaigns offering Ozempic treatment for qualified recruits.

I can see it now. Army: “Be all you can be, just a little lighter.” Navy: “Forged by the sea, controlled by the scale.” Marines: “The few, the proud, the fit.” Air Force: “Aim high, but weigh low.”

Read more at and in Lisa’s book, “The Meat and Potatoes of Life: My True Lit Com.” Email:

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