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-- Expert Panel Discusses the Roles of Public and Private Sectors in Addressing Obesity to Ensure Military Readiness --

WASHINGTON, DC (May 23, 2012) – Weight Watchers International, Inc. and National Journal today convened a policy summit to examine the growing national security threat posed by a shrinking pool of Americans lean enough to serve in the military.

At a time when U.S. forces are stretched thin overseas, obesity is the leading medical disqualifier for military service. Some 27 percent of potential recruits between the ages of 17-24 would weigh too much to qualify to enlist in the armed forces. 1 This presents a security threat for the nation as it creates challenges for the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps, who together must attract more than 184,000 new recruits annually. 2

“It is time to ensure that our population’s excess weight does not weaken our military forces,” said David Kirchhoff, CEO and President of Weight Watchers, International, Inc., which underwrote the event. “We convened this Summit with the National Journal because it is vital to work together to address the fact that too many otherwise eligible men and women who want to serve their country can’t because they weigh too much to qualify. Our goal today is to help develop and highlight resources to help current and prospective service-men and -women achieve and maintain a healthy weight.”

Over the past 50 years, the number of age-eligible men who exceed the U.S. Army’s entry standards for weight-for-height and body fat percentage has more than doubled. For military-age women, the figure has more than tripled. 3

The problem extends beyond enrollment as well: the military discharges about 1,200 first-term enlistees annually before their contracts expire due to weight problems.4 Replacement costs per discharge costs the military $50,000, or more than $60 million per year. Additionally, medical care associated with excess weight and obesity costs the military over $1.1 billion annually. 5

These issues are beginning to receive national attention. In February, Pentagon officials teamed with First Lady Michelle Obama to announce plans to revise nutrition standards across military branches for the first time in 20 years. The new standards are designed to give troops and their families more access to fresh fruits and vegetables, more whole grains, lean meats and low-fat dairy products. The healthier choices will be turning up in service member dining halls and military base schools, vending machines and snack bars.
Today’s policy summit, which was moderated by National Journal managing editor Maggie Fox, featured leading experts on the topic, including Rear Admiral James A. Barnett, Jr., U.S. Navy (Retired), Member, Executive Advisory Council, Mission: Readiness (Keynote address); Marian Tanofsky-Kraff, PhD, Associate Professor, Department of Medical and Clinical Psychology, Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, Christie Ferguson, Director, STOP Obesity Alliance, and Tracy Fox, MPH, RD, President, Food, Nutrition & Policy Consultants.

Among the insights highlighted at the summit is the growing body of scientific research that shows the effectiveness and affordability of community-based weight loss programs. For example, a recent study indicated that that a brief intervention by a physician, that included referral to the community-based weight loss program Weight Watchers, helped overweight and obese adults lose more than twice as much weight as those who received standard care alone.6 Community-based weight loss programs such as Weight Watchers engage participants and offer group support for long-term behavioral change and sustainable weight loss. They are also scalable, offering the potential to support weight management efforts on military bases and in military communities.

Weight Watchers is committed to offering innovative solutions to ensure our eligible servicemen and women are not prevented from serving the country due to weight concerns, and that help members of the military and their families live healthy lifestyles.

About Weight Watchers International, Inc.
Weight Watchers International, Inc. is the world’s leading provider of weight management services, operating globally through a network of Company-owned and franchise operations. Weight Watchers holds more than 45,000 meetings each week, at which members receive group support and learn about healthy eating patterns, behavior modification and physical activity. WeightWatchers.com provides innovative, subscription weight management products over the Internet and is the leading Internet-based weight management provider in the world. In addition, Weight Watchers offers a wide range of products, publications and programs for those interested in weight loss and weight control.

1Too Fat to Fight, Mission: Readiness, April 2010
2Obesity threatens national security, hampers recruiting, Cornell University, October 2010
3 Obesity threatens national security, hampers recruiting, Cornell University, October 2010
4 Too Fat to Fight, Mission: Readiness, April 2010
5 America’s Costliest Disease, The Daily Caller, May 2012
6 Jebb, SA, Ahern, A, Olson MA, et al. Primary care referral to a commercial provider for weight loss treatment versus standard care: a randomised controlled trial. The Lancet 2011; 378:1485-1492.

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