Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Is obesity threatening national security?

Recently, I learned an astounding statistic: 27% of young adults in America are unable to enlist in the army because they are too overweight. When I read this, I actually had to read it again to be sure my eyes hadn't deceived me.

Whether or not we should be at war, whether or not we have a real need for more soldiers, the mere fact that the obesity epidemic (and it clearly is an epidemic) has reached such proportions that over 1 in 4 young adults between 17 and 24 are deemed not 'fat,' or 'unattractive,' but 'unable to serve' should be truly unsettling.

The non-profit organization Mission : Readiness recently released a report titled "Too Fat to Fight" revealing this information and hypothesizing how the issue may be addressed. Mission : Readiness, an organization comprised of retired senior military leaders, seeks to ensure "continued American security and prosperity into the 21st century by calling for smart investments in the upcoming generation of American children" (source).

In addition to examining issues of weight, the organization has also investigated other factors contributing to young Americans' ability to serve, primarily education, and has released several state-by-state reports revealing how ill prepared young adults - my generation - are to serve our country.

Americans have been considered an international military power for almost a century, and now, despite advancements in technology, intelligence, and strategy, we find ourselves in a country where 75% of our young adults are unable to serve for a variety of reasons, and over 25% of these because they are too heavy.

Who does that leave? 25% of the population, who may or may not be interested in enlisting. Who will that leave 10 years from now, as childhood obesity rates continue to climb?

Mission: Readiness focuses on our schools as a starting point on the path to health, proposing the elimination of junk food and sugary drinks from schools, an increase of funding for school lunch programs to encourage healthier options for students of all socio-economic backgrounds, and developing public-health interventions to educate and support children in making healthier choices.

It's difficult to say what, exactly, will truly enact change in our country's youth, schools, and families. At the end of the day, with children as with adults, becoming healthier is a large-scale lifestyle change and one that really must be self-motivated in order to take hold.

Several organizations exist that are currently seeking to address our obesity epidemic: Obesity in America, Down to Earth, and The Obesity Society, to name a few. All of the organizations are admirable in their commitment to researching causes of obesity and advocating for weight loss in individuals, but what are they doing to ensure that Americans develop a sense of obligation to themselves to take responsibility for their health choices? The question I am left with is, is there anything an organization or third party can do to motivate Americans? Clearly whatever practices are currently in place, while well-intentioned, are not effective enough.

My totally amateur belief is that in order to encourage change in our youth, we need to consider what really motivates them. Education, regulations, recommendations - these have not and likely will not inspire change from within. I am not certain what really can have the power to do so, but I do know it is a question I will continue to ponder and for which I will hopefully develop a hypothesis.

I hesitated to even publish this post without a definite conclusion, but thought that by starting the topic I could then continue to return to it and grow in my perspective and in my theories. So consider this installment #1 in a series on how to tackle America's obesity epidemic. This is a great land, that I dearly love, and I am determined to play a role treating this health crisis by putting my skills to use: research, analysis, and plotting.


  1. I *love* this post for many, many reasons. -- I have several close friends currently serving overseas, they are wonderful friends and it got me thinking of how awesome they are. --- I am a teacher and see this every single day of my life... I live to show my kids what a wonderful life you can live by simply incorporating activity and movement into their lives. This year I lived by example and they are the most vegetable eating class in the whole school! .... Kids aren't taught why certain foods affect their bodies in certain ways and how it all works. It isn't above them. Teach them and they will soak it all up. I love how my kids would tell me about all they did after school ; rode their bike around town and ate their vegetables that even their dad's wouldn't eat..
    Way to open up on a great topic! It needs to be addressed!

  2. "I am not certain what really can have the power to [correct obesity]."

    Perhaps US Army boot camp?
    "What is your major malfunction, Private Pyle?!"