SEOUL -- South Korea's defense forces would draft severely obese men to follow suit with the revised eligibility criteria for mandatory military service. Based on the proposed criteria, a 174-centimeter-(6,850 inch)-tall overweight man weighing 120 kilograms (265 pounds) can also be conscripted.
Unless they have valid reasons for exemption, males aged 18 or older must complete their military service in South Korea, which is still technically at war with North Korea. Those enlisted in the army serve for about 18 months. Some men who are not physically or mentally fit for regular service are assigned as public service agents and deployed to local administrative facilities such as elderly homes and district administration offices.
Currently, individuals with a body mass indexes (BMIs) of 30 to 34.9 kilograms per square meter are classified as obese, and those with 35 to 39.9 as severely obese. BMIs of 18.4 or below are considered to be underweight, while BMIs in the range of 18.5 to 24.9 are regarded as normal. The revised enlistment criteria involve reducing the minimum BMI requirement from the current 16 to 15 and increasing the maximum limit from the existing 35 to 40.
"We have confirmed that based on the current BMI standard, there is no issue with serving in the military for personnel who are severely obese or underweight," the National Defense Ministry's spokesperson Jeon Ha-kyu said on December 14 during a press conference. If the new criteria are adopted, individuals with a BMI of 35 to 39.9, who are currently classified as public service agents, will be required to serve in a regular military unit.
According to Jeon, the change in the enlistment criteria could have been affected by the lack of soldiers. The number of active-duty soldiers plummeted to 500,000 in 2023 from 650,000 in 2010. Due to South Korea's significantly decreased fertility rate, the number of soldiers could be less than 360,000 in 2040.
The country's fertility rate in 2022 was 0.78 babies per couple. Data from the Bank of Korea (BOK) showed that there is a 90 percent probability that the total population could decline to below 40 million by 2070 from the current 51 million without effective government interventions.
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