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Surgeon General Priority: Health and National Security

Wellness is at the heart of the safety and security of our nation. The Surgeon General is committed to working with the defense and law enforcement sector to ensure the readiness and resiliency of our military communities.

According to the Pentagon, more than 7 in 10 young people aged 17 to 24 would fail to qualify for military service due to obesity, educational deficits, behavioral health issues, or criminal history. The Council for a Strong America noted in their October 2018 report that almost a third of those who sit down with a recruiter are immediately disqualified because of their weight. The report cites Department of Defense data showing that decreased physical fitness and a shift to sedentary lifestyles have made it difficult for law enforcement agencies to find applicants who can meet basic criteria to protect their communities. Across the country, the nearly 20,000 all-volunteer fire departments routinely struggle to recruit qualified first responders.

Military performance is compromised if personnel are not healthy and physically fit. The Centers for Disease Control note that obesity among active duty service members has risen 73% between 2011 and 2015, reducing their readiness for deployment and increasing their risk for injury. Tobacco use and alcohol abuse also pose significant threats to military readiness and resilience.  And military personnel are more likely to be exposed to traumatic experiences that are associated with both behavioral health and chronic physical health conditions. Substance use (such as smoking, excessive alcohol use, and taking drugs), mental health conditions (such as depression, anxiety, or PTSD), and other risky behaviors (such as self-injury and risky sexual encounters) have been linked with traumatic experiences. There also is growing evidence surrounding the relationship between traumatic experiences and chronic physical health conditions, such as diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and inflammatory diseases.

In order to ensure a strong national defense, the Surgeon General is helping raise awareness about health threats to service member recruitment, retention, readiness, and resilience.

Content created by Office of the Surgeon General
Content last reviewed on May 14, 2019