View Full Version : Army forced to admit clinically obese because of recruiting crisis

11-02-06, 06:37 PM
Army forced to admit clinically obese because of recruiting crisis

The army has been forced to let obese recruits join up and extend their basic training after discovering that two thirds of British teenagers were too fat to meet fitness rules.

In a damning indictment of today's 'couch potato' generation an astonishing 67 per cent of all 16-year-olds in the UK were found to exceed the maximum Body Mass Index for military recruits.

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Now Army chiefs have changed the rules allowing youngster who are clinically obese to sign on as soldiers.

The figure are revealed in a bleak report by the National Audit Office which warns of major number shortages across the forces, at a time when the military is facing far more operations than manpower targets were designed to cope with.

Warships currently go to sea with a startling one in eight crew places unfilled, and only three quarters of the required infantry recruits are coming forward.

The strain of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan is pushing thousands to quit early, complaining that their family life is disrupted, they 'no longer feel valued' and they do not trust their equipment.

Last year the Army announced that it was relaxing its Body Mass Index target for young recruits - a measure of how fat they are - insisting the change was to prevent heavily-built but fit young men from being excluded.

But today's NAO report quotes Army research findings showing that only one in three 16-year-olds could pass the BMI test.

The old target - a maximum BMI score of 28 - is classified as 'overweight' while anyone with the new maximum score 32 is clinically obese.

The report also reveals that the Army is planning to extend its basic training for soldiers from 12 to 14 weeks 'partly to improve fitness levels', at an extra cost of 3,000 per recruit.

Senior commanders have long been lamenting the poor fitness and self-discipline among raw recruits.

A shocking study be education watchdogs last year found that 43 per cent drop out in the first weeks of training because they are too 'unfit, overweight and poorly nourished' to cope - and called for tougher rather than easier medical tests.

The NAO report highlights a shortfall of more than 5,000 personnel across the forces.

The Ministry of Defence has slashed manpower targets by more than 10,000 since 2002 despite the strain of operations, but actual strength continues to fall well short.

Every year since 2001 the forces have been ordered to carry out operations well above their 'planning assumptions' - the expected workload when manpower targets were set.

That means even if the forces were less busy there would still be too few people.

The RAF is faring worst, largely due to a drastic redundancy programme which has slashed numbers to more than 2,000 below the target of 47,290.

The Army faced a 17per cent shortfall in infantry recruits last year, and 27 per cent for artillery.

The report focuses on 88 'pinchpoint' jobs in the military which face even worse shortages, including a shocking 70 per cent shortfall in trauma and intensive care nurses.

The submarine force faces a 29 per cent shortfall in Nuclear Watchkeepers - specialists responsible for nuclear safety.

Numbers of personnel quitting the military early have risen over the past two years to 9,200 last year.

Among those planning to leave early 49 per cent blamed disruption of family life, while 28 per cent complained of too many operational deployments.

Some units complained of being under-used, however, with 14 per cent of Royal Marines citing too few operations as a reason for leaving.

The report says Army recruitment has been hit by 'the Iraq war, events at Deepcut Barracks and allegations about the treatment of prisoners in Iraq', with four of ten parents saying they would steer their children away from a military career due to Iraq.

Defence Minister Derek Twigg insisted the forces were "stretched but not overstretched" and promised new measures to ease the impact of frequent operations, saying: "The Government recognises that the Armed Forces currently face a particularly high level of operational commitment.

"We have recently announced improvements in pay and benefits for those deployed on operations."

He said competition from a buoyant economy meant that achieving 98 per cent of recruitment targets in recent years was an "excellent achievement."