WASHINGTON, Dec. 10 (UPI) -- About 16 times more U.S. troops were drummed out of the Army this year for being overweight than were five years ago, military officials say.
The Washington Post reported Monday during the first 10 months of this year, the Army discharged 1,625 soldiers for being out of shape.
The Armed Forces Health Surveillance Center says between 1998 and 2010, the number of active-duty military personnel categorized as overweight or obese more than tripled, with 86,186 troops diagnosed as overweight or obese in 2010.
The effort to weed out the overweight comes as the military moves to reduce its forces by tens of thousands of troops in the coming years to save money, the Post notes.
"A healthy and fit force is essential to national security," said Cmdr. Leslie Hull-Ryde, a Pentagon spokeswoman.
The weight problem in the military is a reflection of the U.S. population in general.
Retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling said that in 2009 he found 75 percent of civilians who wanted to join up were ineligible and obesity was the leading cause. And of the 25 percent who could join, 65 percent could not pass the physical training test on the first day.
But with two wars to fight, the Army granted waivers and overweight recruits made it in. Now with the wars winding down, the Army is able to tell soldiers to get fit or get out.
"We will use the drawdown as an opportunity to shape our Army by ensuring that we retain only the very best soldiers," the Post said Army Secretary John M. McHugh wrote in a Feb. 2 memo.