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:
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)