Obesity – A Threat to National Security?


Is obesity a threat to our national security? That may seem farfetched but a closer look should give us all pause.

Dr. Bill Frist, a heart and lung transplant surgeon and the former U.S. Senate Majority Leader, says we have a serious problem. A recently published report called Unhealthy and Unprepared, was released by a group of 750 retired generals and admirals that call themselves Mission: Readiness. The report says 71% of young Americans are ineligible to serve in the military because of obesity.

Frist says this alarming finding, coupled with declining interest in military service, is making it difficult for our military to find suitable recruits to protect our country and our interests abroad. The Army reports it was unable to meet recruiting goals for this year as of September.

The implications of these findings threaten our national security and the future of our healthcare system. If not addressed soon, generations of children will grow up to have serious and potentially life-threatening health issues. This will have a profound effect upon our military and the cost of healthcare for these individuals.

Young people with obesity are more likely to experience diabetes, heart disease, fatty liver disease, and serious bone and joint issues in later life. Overweight adolescents have a 70% chance of being obese as adults.

Frist says there is a solution to this problem. Research shows that high-quality early childhood education and care programs can help teach children the importance of physical activity and nutrition. Programs that require children to be active at school and provide them with healthy meals can provide a foundation for health and well-being later in life.

The State of Tennessee has taken a step to do something about the problem. They passed the Tom Cronan Physical Education Act, which will require elementary schools to provide at least 60 minutes of physical education per week. Frist joined with organizations like the American Heart Association (AHA) and NashvilleHealth to support this legislation.

Personally, this sounds a bit like re-inventing the wheel. I can remember as a child during the Kennedy administration we were all required to do similar physical education for the same purpose. Last I checked our human bodies still need the same level of physical activity to maintain proper health and fitness. Makes you wonder why these national guidelines were forgotten. Frankly, only 60 minutes in a week seems insufficient.

The AHA fitness guidelines for adults are at least 150 minutes per week of moderate intensity aerobic exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity or a combination of both, preferably spread throughout the week.

The value of regular exercise can’t be over-emphasized. Good exercise habits must be developed in children – and maintained as adults. A recent period of low back pain reminded me of the importance of exercise even to aging bodies, as well. We never outgrow the need for exercise if we want to remain healthy and fit. It’s the right thing to do at any age.

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