EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) – New figures from the U.S. Dept. of Defense show that less than a quarter of Americans of prime recruiting age are eligible to serve in the military.

The most recent data indicates that only 23-percent of Americans between the ages of 17 and 24 would meet the necessary qualifications to enlist.

A group called “Mission: Readiness” suggests this could have major implications for national security.

Many potential applicants would be disqualified due to physical fitness concerns including obesity while others would likely not be able to join the military due to their criminal history or drug-related issues.

“Physical health challenges, including obesity, prevent far too many young Americans from reaching their dreams.  For many young people, those dreams include serving their country in uniform,” said Mission: Readiness member Lieutenant General Norm Seip, U.S. Air Force, (Retired).

This is the first time since 2017 that the Dept. of Defense has released this type of data. Five years ago, the number of Americans who would be automatically disqualified from serving in the military was four-percent lower than it is today.

Now, military leaders are urging the nation to focus more on childhood nutrition and health education at an early age to turn things around.

“These new ineligibility figures are a painful reminder of the urgency around making sure that our young people have the tools they need to grow up healthy and prepared for whatever career path they choose, including military service if they so desire,” said Lieutenant General Seip.