Laura Aiken is a community health specialist with WakeMed and is the director for Advocates for Health in Action.
As a community health specialist at WakeMed and the director of Advocates for Health in Action, a collaborative of organizations working to increase access to healthy food and activity in Wake County, information comes across my desk daily about the obesity epidemic. Yesterday, a report from retired military leaders was forwarded to me by a colleague. I found it interesting enough to share with you because it shows that obesity is truly a bipartisan issue and that the epidemic is impacting our country in ways that we may not even realize.
The report says that at least nine million 17- to 24-year-olds in the United States are too fat to serve in the military. That is 27 percent of all young adults. The report goes further by asserting the obesity rates among children and young adults have increased so dramatically that they threaten not only the overall health of America but also the future strength of our military.
The report also asserts that calls to Congress to impact weight in the military is not a new issue citing an example from 1946 when General Lewis Hershey was instrumental in convincing Congress to pass the original National School Lunch Act as a way to improve the nutrition of America’s children, increase their height and weight, and ensure America’s national security.
The retired military leaders have identified three initiatives to help curb the obesity epidemic in an effort to make sure our young people are fit enough to serve in the military. These initiatives include:
- Allow the U.S. Department of Agriculture to adopt new nutrition standards that will get high-calorie, low-nutrition foods out of our schools;
- Support the administration’s proposal for adequate funding to improve the quality of food available in schools and increase the number of children who have access to quality meals at school;
- Deploy proven school-based programs that enlist parents in helping children adopt life-long changes in their eating and exercise habits.
Police and firefighters are having the same issues with overweight as our military. Regardless of the goal to have Americans be fit enough to serve in uniform or have a good quality of life, the obesity epidemic is a real problem in this country and impacts us negatively in so many ways. It is time for Congress to address the issue starting with taking steps to ensure our children receive healthy, nutritious meal options in schools. This is certainly not the only answer, but it is a step in the right direction.