WASHINGTON, DC — Although the United States military met its fiscal year 2009 recruiting goals, 27 percent of young people in the United States are too overweight to join the armed services, a recently released report found. And nearly 15,000 potential recruits who take the military's physical fitness entrance exam fail each year because they are too heavy.

Increased spending on recruitment bonuses helped the military meet its recruiting goals, but report authors cautioned against relying on a continued economic downturn to staff the military.

“During economic downturns, higher numbers of well-qualified candidates seek to enlist, and the military can temporarily rely less on waivers for those with academic deficits or criminal records,” the report stated. “But a weak economy is no formula for a strong military. Once the economy begins to grow again, the challenge of finding enough high-quality recruits will return.”

The report, titled “Ready, Willing and Unable to Serve,” was released by Mission: Readiness, a nonprofit organization of 89 senior retired military leaders aimed at increasing youth education in America.

“Unfortunately, the number of young Americans who have high school degrees, are in good physical shape and are without criminal records is declining,” retired Gen. Henry “Hugh” Shelton, U.S. Army, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in a statement. “To keep our country strong and safe, we need to ensure all young Americans get the right start in life. We need more investments in high-quality early education.”

Some 75 percent of Americans aged 17 to 24 are unfit to join the military when other reasons are included, such as inadequate education and criminal history, Curtis Gilroy, the Pentagon's accessions policy director, testified in March. Mission: Readiness encouraged Congress to pass legislation funding early childhood development programs.