A study conducted by the Citadel, U.S. Army and other partners reveals recruits from southern states are less physically fit for basic training than recruits from other regions of the country.
“We know that the South has been unfortunately, yet consistently recognized for being disproportionately burdensome for public health,” lead researcher and assistant Health, Exercise and Sport Science professeor Dr. Daniel Bornstein said.
According to the findings, recruits from Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas are significantly less fit. Consequently, those recruits are more likely to encounter training-related injuries than recruits from other states.
Bornstein said the study was intended “to see if states that we already know are recognized for their poor public health outcomes and their low rates of physical activity and their high rates of obesity might also be producing army recruits who were less physically fit and or more likely to become injured.”
The report, based on U.S. Army data, shows that male and female soldiers coming from these states are 22 to 28 percent more likely to be injured. Perhaps coincidentally, those states also make up the Army’s top recruiting region. Each recruit lost to injury has been estimated to cost the Department of Defense approximately $31,000. The study, published by the Journal of Public Health Management and Practice, is the result of a four-year effort led by Dr. Bornstein.
“Army recruits coming from many states in the South were, in fact, significantly less physically fit and significantly more likely to become injured during basic training,” Bornstein said. “These states now not only disproportionately threaten or are burdensome for public health, but they’re disproportionately threatening our military readiness and subsequently, our national security.”
Bornstein said the Defense Department has known for some time the candidate pool for military service is shrinking. Currently, only 25 percent of 17-24 year-olds can qualify for basic training. And once they get there, researchers say a lack of physical preparation leads to a growing number of injuries.
“The solution is within our states, within our communities with respect to policies that would create environments that would allow more residents of these states to become and stay more physically active,” Bornstein said. To do that, he said schools need to provide mandatory physical education and communities have to be safe for walking or biking.”
Bornstein said The Citadel is working on the issue in South Carolina.
“Until we have bold enough legislators and policymakers willing to make the tough decisions to create these policies and environments, the problem is only going to get worse and we do so at our own peril because we clearly have demonstrated that this is a problem for military readiness and national security,” he said. “We need to lead the way nationally, or our state does, in creating environments that are going to allow more people to be more physically active and to improve their fitness.”