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Military leaders see obesity epidemic as threat to national security

“Too Fat to Fight” — this is the title of a 2010 report published by America’s retired generals, admirals, and civilian military leaders, urging Congress to take immediate steps to combat childhood obesity.


These senior leaders noted that being overweight or obese was the leading medical reason why young Americans 17 to 24 years of age failed to qualify for military service. Between 1995 and 2008, the proportion of potential recruits who failed their physicals each year because they were overweight rose nearly 70 percent.


These otherwise excellent recruit prospects were being turned away because they were just too overweight.


Retired U.S. Army General Johnnie E. Wilson stated, “Child obesity has become so serious in this country that military leaders are viewing this epidemic as a potential threat to our national security.” High numbers of obese and overweight young adults are clearly hurting the nation’s ability to build a strong military for the future. The many unhealthful food sources prevalent in America—and in American Samoa—combined with our hard-wired desire for sugar and fat, are leading children toward unhealthy weight.


These retired senior military leaders, who believe firsthand that national security must be America’s top priority, are turning to schools to help reverse the childhood obesity epidemic. They realize that we must start early, and that as much as 40 percent of children’s daily calorie intake occurs at school. They want to encourage children and their parents to adopt healthier eating habits that can last a lifetime. They want to get junk food and vending machines out of schools, since sugar-sweetened drinks account for empty calories that can lead to overweight.


The early report was followed up with “Still Too Fat to Fight” in 2012. Although some progress had been made in the intervening two years, it was not enough, the report says.


Both reports cite successful, evidence-based school intervention where providing healthful meals along with nutrition education and simple techniques to motivate children or their parents resulted in reduced childhood weight gain. Instead of using their family’s lunch money to purchase junk food from school canteens and nearby stores, for example, children should be encouraged to make healthier choices.


The American Samoa Department of Education, the Community College, and four communities on Tutuila, together with other U.S. affiliated Pacific Islands, are partnering to try to find interventions that work locally.


The Children’s Healthy Living Program is a USDA-sponsored project housed at the University of Hawaii. And since 2007, the Department of Education and Department of Agriculture have teamed up to provide the Territory’s schoolchildren with nutritious school lunches that follow USDA recommended guidelines. These guidelines include offering locally grown fresh fruits or vegetables with each meal.


These are just a few of the efforts that local departments and agencies are making to help fight this epidemic,  that often leads to diseases like diabetes, heart disease, and stroke as children enter adulthood. We can prevent many of these so-called lifestyle diseases by avoiding overweight and keeping fit. And the earlier we start— the better.


As noted in these reports, the problem is too serious to ignore. The best way to help our children adopt a healthful lifestyle is by being good role models ourselves. Families are apt to achieve health together…or not at all.


(Source: ASCC/ CNR)