JACKSON, MS — Police and fire departments are having trouble finding applicants who can pass initial physical training tests, in much the same way that the U.S. military is facing challenges associated with decreased fitness levels among new recruits.

For example, one-third of new trainees failed the physical training test for the Jackson (MS) Police Department's fall police academy class. The current class of Jackson Police Department recruits dropped from 600 initial applicants to 100 after they took the physical training test, written test and other pre-employment screenings, said Deputy Police Chief Gerald Jones. The fitness test consisted of push-ups, a 1.5-mile run, an obstacle course and flexibility test.

“What we are finding is a decline in overall physical strength,” Jones told local media. “We've seen people who are not obese. They just lack strength and stamina. They can't complete the mile-and-a-half run. They get winded.”

Some 22 percent of children aged 10 to 17 are obese in Mississippi, and 45 percent qualify as being overweight, according to a survey examining statistics from the National Survey of Children's Health that was published in the May issue of the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine.

Although no national studies on police and fire recruits exist, 77 percent of fire and emergency medical technician trainees were obese or overweight, according to a study released last year examining emergency personnel in Massachusetts. Some 7 percent of the overweight trainees in the study — and 42 percent of the obese ones — failed to meet minimum fitness requirements recommended by the National Fire Protection Association.

In an effort to deepen the pool for young recruits, the Jackson Police Department started a community outreach program called Police Explorers for youths who are interested in a career in law enforcement. Jones said the program emphasizes overall fitness and wellness.