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U.S. Military Says Kids Too Fat To Fight

According to a nonpartisan national security organization of senior retired military leaders, one of the greatest threats the U.S. Military faces is … obesity. According to their recently published report, Still Too Fat To Fight, about 1 in 4 young American adults is “simply too overweight to join the military. Being overweight or obese is the number one medical reason why young adults cannot enlist. When weight problems are combined with poor education, criminal backgrounds and other disqualifiers, an estimated 75 percent of young Americans could not serve in the military if they wanted to.”

In light of this, the report is urging Americans to limit the sale of junk food and sodas in the nation’s schools. The report not only brings to light the shocking truth about obesity, but highlights successful efforts by some school districts to halt or reverse climbing childhood obesity rates.

The report begins in a familiar way, highlighting escalating obesity rates. They claim the all-too-familiar statistics are a threat to national security.

It then asks what every report on this subject seems inclined to ask — why? Why are our kids getting more and more fat? According to the report,

Students in the United States consume almost 400 billion calories from junk food sold at schools each year. If the calories were converted to candy bars this would equal nearly 2 billion bars and weigh more than the aircraft carrier Midway.

To illustrate just how much junk food sales have skyrocketed, they even provide a few handy graphs, including this one:

children sodas vs. milk graph

Our children have stopped drinking whole milk in favor of sugary drinks like sodas and juices.

So what? How can I change anything?

Whenever I read these kinds of statistics, I immediately feel powerless. After all, I’m only responsible for myself and my little family.

I’m just one person.

That’s why I was very encouraged by a section of the report dedicated to highlighting solutions that work.

In it, they reported on how various school districts across the nation have reversed the trend of rising obesity rates by removing or restricting junk food access:

When New York City combined limiting junk food in its schools with other improvements in nutrition, physical activity, and child- and parent-education that took place not only in the schools but city-wide, rates of obesity among its K-8 children dropped by 5.5 percent in just four years. The younger the children the greater the decline in obesity. There was a 24 percent drop in rates of obesity among white 5- to 6-yearolds and 7 and 6 percent drops among black and Hispanic children that age – proof that large-scale public health change is possible in a short time frame and the earlier we make these changes in children’s lives the better.

Other places, such as Philadelphia and the state of Mississippi, are also starting to see meaningful progress in reducing childhood obesity. An issue brief by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation compared New York and Philadelphia, noting that, “In the mid 2000s, both cities implemented strong nutrition standards to improve the foods and beverages available to students.” Philadelphia also improved school nutrition education, worked to make fresh fruits and vegetables more available in underserved neighborhoods, and had citywide public education campaigns to encourage healthier nutrition. Over a 4-year period, there was almost a 5 percent decline in the overall obesity rate for Philadelphia’s K-12 students. The largest declines were observed among African-American males and Hispanic females.

The brief also highlighted progress made in Mississippi. Over a 6-year period, from the spring of 2005 to the spring of 2011, there was a 13 percent decline in the overall rate of overweight and obesity among Mississippi’s K-5 students.

The progress these school districts have made in reducing obesity rates among children should give us all hope.

After all, our local school governments are something we have the power to influence. I can’t do much, if anything at all, to sway Congress or the President of the U.S. to pay attention to me.

But, I can join with other parents and begin an initiative to restrict junk food sales in my local schools.

Do you know any other success stories?

Has your PTA, local government, or local school district made positive changes in the health of your community’s children? Have they successfully removed junk food from the schools? Stopped selling sodas and juice? Maybe improved the availability of local vegetables and fruits?

Please take a moment to share your story in the comments below. We can all use a bit of inspiration and guidance when it comes to fighting for our children’s future health.

(top photo by ed_yourdon)

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I am a passionate advocate for REAL FOOD -- food that's sustainable, organic, local, and traditionally-prepared according to the wisdom of our ancestors. I'm also an author and a nutrition educator. I enjoy playing in the rain, a good bottle of Caol Ila scotch, curling up with a page-turning book, sunbathing on my hammock, and watching my three children explore their world.

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17 Responses to U.S. Military Says Kids Too Fat To Fight
  1. LittleOwlCrunchyMomma
    October 30, 2012 | 7:25 pm

    “When weight problems are combined with poor education, criminal backgrounds and other disqualifiers, an estimated 75 percent of young Americans could not serve in the military if they wanted to.”

    Wow. Just wow. Never thought of the obesity epidemic as a national security issue…

    • KristenM
      October 31, 2012 | 12:43 pm

      Further on in their report, they say that 73% of American adult males would also be automatically disqualified from serving in the military because of their weight.

      • Debborah
        September 30, 2013 | 9:21 am

        Perhaps they need more health markers than weight. YOu can have a perfect BMI, and still have diabetes, heart disease, cancer. Thin people have all the same diseases as fat people.

    • Tom
      December 11, 2013 | 9:12 pm

      Gosh. Wow! A national security issue!?! The NSA should get right on it! They should monitor what we eat (probably already do) and send out agents to yank those fattening junk foods out of our mouths before we can swallow. At least they’d be doing something useful for a change.

  2. Baffled
    October 31, 2012 | 6:37 pm

    The DoD was the original group that started the school lunch program back in the 1940s because the kids then were too skinny to enlist. If the DoD figures out that real food is required for healthy recruits there will be a huge shift in school lunches across the nation. And yes it is a huge security threat that is being taken very seriously by the DoD. Several of the kids my son grew up with were rejected by the military due to weight or other health issues such as asthma. My son was one of the few who passed the exercise and weight requirements.

  3. Ironic
    November 1, 2012 | 4:10 pm

    Shows the shortsightedness of the corporations. They want to sell us everything and squeeze every last penny out of us, AND use us to protect their interests as their private army…. oops.

    Buck up corporations, that’s what mercenaries are for.

    • Tom
      December 11, 2013 | 9:13 pm

      Yep. That’s what the Romans thought. Worked for a while.

  4. Deb
    November 1, 2012 | 10:51 pm

    Unfortunately, the flip side of the “obesity epidemic” in the military is that the government thinks that one menu fits all. My neighbor, currently serving in Afghanistan, is not overweight in the least. He was subjected to the dietary restrictions when he was in boot camp and beyond, even though he actually needed more calories than he was getting. When his parents went to visit him, they said he and his friends were hungry all the time. This is NO way to treat our military!

  5. Colin Brace
    November 2, 2012 | 2:54 pm

    I would truly hope that there would be more positive reasons to regret the obesity of many young than the fact that they cannot serve as cannon fodder for America’s endless imperialistic wars. To raise this argument is simply to buy into all the hoary cliches about national security. Geographically speaking, America is well-situated with no natural enemies at its borders. All the hundreds and hundreds of billions it spends on “defense” can be better dedicated to improving public services such as education, healthcare, housing, public transportation, and environmental protection, precisely those things which make a society civilized. Raising the young to fight in foreign wars is not civilized. Please don’t buy into the national security hype.

  6. Zoe
    November 2, 2012 | 2:57 pm

    This article is disturbing to me, not because of the obesity statistics, but because people can be immediately disqualified from the category of “healthy” just by being above a certain weight. One can be quite unhealthy and be technically a “healthy” weight, eating as much junk food and soda as one pleases and never gaining weight. Conversely, I know plenty of people who nourish their bodies with food and exercise, but are probably above these upward limits of weight. We have a health crisis, not a weight crisis. Correlation, not causation.

    • Debborah
      September 30, 2013 | 9:19 am

      Good post Zoe.

  7. Laura
    November 2, 2012 | 10:28 pm

    @Colin and @Zoe <3 both your comments. My first reaction to this article is thank god they are fat if it keeps them from having to fight in the US war machine.
    The second thing that came to mind as I looked at the picture is that it is misleading showing a picture of bigger people implying that people who are big are by definition unhealthy and unfit. It is not only possible but probable, given our lousy sad diet, that many thin, children as well as adults are what is termed "skinny fat" Thin people can be as unhealthy and unfit as obviously overweight people. Just sayin.

  8. Eva
    September 29, 2013 | 11:24 am

    I’m very disappointed in the choice of picture that accompanied this article. It appears to have been chosen for shock value. Of the numerous options available- perhaps military or a picture of sugary beverages, or even a picture of overweight child having FUN and playing sports, you chose a picture that objectifies obese children. In it they are standing there drinking what is presumably a junk beverage, and the boy has a stunned look. This perpetuates the idea that obese people are lazy, slobs, and have done this “to themselves” because they just can’t stop eating. Instead it is a far more complex issue. Unfollowed.

    • Debborah
      September 30, 2013 | 9:17 am

      I agree Eva. Objectifying children is just wrong. They are bullied enough in school. They need support.

  9. Tracey
    September 29, 2013 | 6:48 pm

    Why is it up to the government to “regulate” my consumption or anyone else’s? I’m sick and tired of the lack of personal responsibility and accountability! Where are the parents of these obese children? When I was growing up in the 80′s, there was plenty of soda and junk food available for consumption, but I can’t remember any obese school mates…

    This is a symptom of something much more…and I don’t believe government “regulation” is the solution…

  10. Sofia
    September 29, 2013 | 8:51 pm

    As a public health professional and nurse, I’ve been contemplating this crisis for a long time. I agree that soda and junk food should be banned in elementary schools altogether. I think back to when I was a kid, before the days of mad antibiotic and hormone use in farm-raised animals, GMOs and mass contaminated foods (arsenic in chicken & rice, mercury, lab fats (hydrogenated/trans), E.coli, etc.). Back to the days when home-cooked meals and local produce stands were the norm. When treats were given on rare occasions.

    Even if we reintroduce healthier food options to kids and they slim down, are the foods healthier?

    In my opinion, the real push should be for schools to partner with local, responsible farmers. There should be a push for school or community gardens and nutrition education.

    This happens in hospitals too. We teach our kids and patients (in my case) about healthy eating habits but we offer nothing but poor food options. Does this make sense or am I just crazy?

  11. Debborah
    September 30, 2013 | 9:09 am

    I really like that you promote eating real food. How great would it be, it we took the focus off the numbers on a scale, and meeting the impossible requirements of an antiquated system, that is the BMI, and changed the focus on Eating real food, learning how our bodies worked, and moving in a way that is enjoyable, so that fat is not equated, with lazy, unmotivated, etc. Fat kids are the most bullied in school, and usually it’s very accepted. Take the focus of the scale and put it on health.

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Who Am I?

My name is Kristen Michaelis. I'm a nutrition educator, author, and mother of three. I adore hats, happy skirts, horizons full of storm clouds, the full-bodied feel of wind as I ride motorcylces, reading in my hammock, and a hearty shot of Caol Ila scotch. I'm also a rebel with a cause.