Everyone should strive to be fit for the military

Back in the day, most military deferments were because of flat feet, poor eyesight or some other physical impairment.

The number of recruitment-age Americans ineligible for military service is a lot bigger these days, but don't blame it on an epidemic of fallen arches.

A wide range of obstacles now stand between the majority of our young people and would-be military enlistment. A newly released report, "Ready, Willing and Unable to Serve," found that three out of four young adults are either physically, mentally or morally unfit for the military.

It's not because the standards are higher, but because the fitness gap is growing larger. The findings don't bode well for the future of our military -- or society for that matter.

Many of the shortcomings that prevent young people from serving in the military also keep them from getting a good job or increase their health risks. The inevitable result is higher social service costs.

What keeps our young adults from qualifying for military service? Health issues are the biggie -- literally. According to the new report, obesity alone disqualifies 27 percent of all young Americans from serving.

And that's not all.

The report, from a group of education and military leaders, says nearly a third of all young adults have health issues other than weight that could keep them from serving.

For example, there's a huge increase in people suffering from asthma or taking prescriptions for depression or attention disorders.

Education is another major stumbling block.

Dropout rates and criminal records are increasing among our youth. Unfortunately the two seem to be linked. Kids often turn to crime when the school thing isn't working out.

Even bad credit ratings are taking a toll on recruiting numbers. The military usually takes a pass on potential volunteers targeted by collection agencies.

The good news is that lots of these problems can be solved or avoided entirely if caught soon enough.

OK, maybe not the asthma, but bad credit ratings, dropping out of high school and being overweight? Those are deficiencies we can combat.

The solution? Start by improving early education. The best foundation for success in high school begins before kindergarten.

Military recruiters are able to meet this year's targets, but what happens down the road? The young people who will be protecting our country in 2030 are in kindergarten today.

Certainly, the armed forces aren't for everyone, but we're not going to say no to a healthy, well-educated citizenry. That's the right goal regardless of military needs.

Military minded or not, strong physical and mental health can only enhance your quality of life -- whether you're 18 or 80.

We wouldn't mind seeing the new fitness report inspire Americans who are well beyond military age. A lot of us could stand to drop a few pounds and read a good book now and then. Living within our means is also an excellent idea.

If more adults adopted these habits, it would help instill them in future generations -- to protect the country and to protect ourselves.