Yumlish partners with the Air Force to curb recruiting shortage

U.S. Air Force F-15 Strike Eagle
U.S. Air Force F-15 Strike Eagle(USAF / Sean Carnes via MGN)
Published: Nov. 10, 2022 at 8:06 PM CST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

DALLAS, Texas - Yumlish, a digital health startup, is partnering with the Department of the Air Force to address nutritional drivers behind why many recruits are struggling to meet fitness requirements. The platform serves as a dire intervention solution that improves recruit retention and eligibility. More candidates are failing to meet fitness requirements now than ever before, posing a major recruiting obstacle. This reality carries significant force readiness and national security implications and has been deemed the opening salvo of a “long-term threat” to the armed services.

The Dallas-based company won a Small Business Innovation Research phase II contract from the AFWERX, a program office within the Air Force Research Laboratory, to help Air Force Recruiting Service (AFRS) turn the tide and meet its force numbers for Fiscal Year 2023. Yumlish is now in the process of adapting its core digital nutrition product to the Air Force’s unique cultural needs and will ultimately deploy among a real-world test cohort within the branch’s Delayed Entry Program (DEP). Driving the development of the company’s occupational wellness content are interviews with Air Force recruiters across the southeast - where the majority of young Americans enlist - about their experiences with the challenges the service is facing.

Severe recruiting challenges are not specific to the Air Force. A study released by the Pentagon earlier this year indicated that 77% - up from 71% in 2017 - of young Americans do not qualify for military service. The biggest contributor to service ineligibility is weight management, as reports show roughly 27% of young Americans are too overweight to enlist. Compounding these challenges is the reality that solutions haven’t necessarily kept pace with the recruiting environment. Studies by the American Journal of Health Promotion and public testimonies from service members and veterans suggest that long-held ‘tape tests’ often encourage unhealthy dieting habits, ultimately leading to more health issues and diminished force readiness down the road.

“We don’t want recruits resorting to crash diets to meet tomorrow’s fitness test,” said Yumlish CEO Shireen Abdullah. “Weight-related healthcare costs the military $1.5 billion annually, so nutrition and exercise remain our top priority in order to maintain performance standards and prevent injury and disease down the line. What we’re hearing from recruiters on the ground is a real need for occupational wellness resources from the onset. We believe that our whole-person approach can help the Air Force not only retain more recruits but establish a strong foundation that sustains airmen throughout their career,” said Abdullah.

The Air Force has always had a holistic approach to wellness known as Comprehensive Airman Fitness, a standard that remains essential to military service and will not be lowered.

“It’s a national security imperative that we are fit to fight,” said Maj. Gen. Ed Thomas, AFRS commander.  “It is vital to have healthy military members in our ranks, and that all starts with the future Airmen we recruit. Our Airmen are our greatest asset and having them at their peak performance is essential to combat emerging threats worldwide, win our nation’s wars and continue to project our power as a nation.”

All U.S. military branches are facing a current recruiting challenge where more than three quarters of their applicants require a waiver to join.

“Now is the optimal time to face service ineligibility head on,” said Senior Master Sgt. Frank Wallace, Superintendent of Officer Accessions at AFRS. “Currently only 23% of our targeted youth market is qualified to serve.  Additionally, we lose about 2-3% of our Delayed Entry Program members due to weight management challenges. Providing tools to help our future Airmen be successful in being in their best health will help overcome these barriers to service and help them improve their personal wellness.  Instilling occupational wellness values at the start of the DEP pipeline sets a strong precedent that a new Airman can pass along to their peers. Our partnership with Yumlish will hopefully produce a sustainable, adaptable solution that looks beyond the new fiscal year.”