Obesity in America has been called an epidemic that contributes to poor health and high medical costs in the United States. Now, military leaders are taking it a step further by calling obesity a national security issue that threatens the country’s safety.
Increases in Childhood Obesity
Childhood obesity has skyrocketed in recent decades. In 1980, 7 percent of children between 6 and 11 were obese. By 2008 that percentage had increased to 20. Young adults also have significantly higher obesity rates. In 1980, 5 percent of people between 12 and 19 were obese. In 2008, 18 percent of that group was obese.
The numbers become even more depressing when one includes the number of overweight children and young adults. Over one third of children and adolescents in the United States were considered obese in 2008.
What This Means for the Military
The military has good reason to worry about these statistics. According to retired Lieutenant General Norman Seip, the US military relies on strong men and women. Without physically able recruits, the military’s tanks, guns, and planes mean little to the country’s protection.
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27 percent of people between 17 and 24 are too overweight to serve the military. The epidemic is worse for women than men. Over the past 50 years, the number of women ineligible for service because of weight has tripled. The number has doubled for men.
The health problems caused by being overweight and obese people also has an impact on the military’s finances. The US Department of Defense currently spends about $1 billion a year on medical expenses related to weight issues. This amount covers service members and their families.
This puts a financial strain on the Department of Defense that could prevent it from adequately protecting the nation’s borders and international interests. This is especially true during a time when every government program, even those in the military, have to worry about budget cuts.
The Military Wages War Against Obesity
The obesity problem has become so severe that the military has decided to step in to influence the habits of young people. Children in the United States consume an average of 130 empty calories per day. These are calories that do not contribute to the nutritional health of children. The effects are taking an obvious toll on the population.
To battle the obesity epidemic, the military has made nutritional education part of its Basic Training program. Every soldier who completes training should have a better understanding of how food and lifestyle choices contribute to health and physical fitness.
Many military leaders have also decided to support programs that address obesity in young populations. Mission: Readiness, for instance, encourages schools to fill their lunchrooms and vending machines with healthy options instead of high-fat, high-calorie snacks.
Studies have shown that healthy children are more likely to maintain those healthy habits throughout life. That not only benefits the healthcare industry and families, but the military’s readiness.
Without successful programs, branches of the military could find it even more difficult to find suitable service members in the future.