Is Obesity a National Security Problem?

To defend our way of life abroad we may need to reconsider how much junk food it involves at home. It's not every day that...

To defend our way of life abroad we may need to reconsider how much junk food it involves at home.

It's not every day that former generals and admirals speak out about children's health and education. But last Thursday was one of those days. According to Mission: Readiness, a nonprofit, bipartisan organization led by retired senior military leaders, 75 percent of 17 to 24 year olds cannot enlist in the military because they fail to graduate high school, have a criminal record, or are physically unfit.

One trend called out in the report deserves special attention: America's obesity epidemic not only limits the military's recruiting base, but is a growing drain on the Department of Defense budget and hurts the readiness of our forces. The numbers are alarming. Since 1998, the rate at which active-duty servicemembers received a medical diagnosis of being overweight or obese increased more than 2.5-fold.

We all know Americans are gaining weight. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than one-third of adults in the United States are obese, double the rate in 1980; around two-thirds are at least overweight. (An adult with a body mass index between 25 and 29.9 is overweight; 30 or higher is obese. Someone 5 feet 9 inches tall and weighing 169 lbs, for example, is considered overweight. If that same person weighed more than 203 lbs, he would be obese.)

There's no mystery behind this phenomenon. Less than 10 percent of high school students consume the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables daily. Less than one-third meet the recommended levels of physical activity. Children and adolescents average several hours of TV, DVD, and movie-watching daily. Sugar-sweetened drinks are everywhere, including schools.

These lifestyles, however, are reflected in our military, and the costs are considerable. One-quarter of DoD beneficiaries (which includes servicemembers and their families, and retirees) are obese, little better than in the general U.S. population, while 40 percent are overweight. As in the civilian sector, the military health system is spending a lot of money treating conditions that obesity promotes, like heart disease and diabetes. The DoD estimates its healthcare costs attributable to obesity at $2 billion per year, more than for alcohol- and tobacco-related conditions combined. The cost is sure to grow under an expanded DoD entitlement program for retirees (the Congressional Budget Office projects a near-doubling of DoD healthcare costs, from $46 to $85 billion, during the next 30 years), and could constrain other critical DoD medical treatment and prevention programs.

Then, of course, there is the impact on individual military members. The Armed Forces Health Surveillance Center reports that rates of joint and back disorders-among the leading causes of lost duty time-in overweight or obese active duty servicemembers are three times higher than the overall active duty rate. Nearly one-quarter of servicemembers diagnosed as obese or overweight last year also were diagnosed with a joint disorder during the previous year.

Obesity may even play a role in the mental consequences of war, a link we're only just beginning to understand. This year, a large DoD epidemiological study that includes many personnel who deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan reported that servicemembers who don't see themselves as healthy-which we know correlates with being overweight or obese-were at significantly higher risk for post-traumatic stress disorder.

The link between America's obesity epidemic and national security is becoming clear to public health experts like Dr. Richard Carmona, who is especially qualified to recognize the connection. He enlisted in the Army, served in Special Forces, and was a combat-decorated Vietnam veteran before beginning his medical career and going on to serve as President George W. Bush's Surgeon General. Dr. Carmona said recently that "Obesity is not just a health issue" but "affects our national and global security."

The DoD is launching new initiatives against obesity. The military health system recently completed a pilot project using an internet-based program to help beneficiaries lose weight. Commissaries now have shelf signs with dietary tips based on U.S. Government dietary guidelines. More important, probably, is to help children establish healthy lifestyle habits. Investing in early education on food and health is a good bargain for America whether or not these children choose military service later.

And that's something that healthy lifestyle campaigners and supporters a strong military-not always a natural constituency-can agree on.

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The problem with American Sign Language (ASL) is that over 500,000 people in the U.S. use it, but the country has over 330 million people.

So for those with hearing loss, the chances of coming into contact with someone who uses the language are rare. Especially outside of the deaf community.

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Looking back, the year 1995 seems like such an innocent time. America was in the midst of its longest streak of peace and prosperity. September 11, 2001 was six years away, and the internet didn't seem like much more than a passing fad.

Twenty-four years ago, 18 million U.S. homes had modem-equipped computers, 7 million more than the year before. Most logged in through America Online where they got their email or communicated with random strangers in chat rooms.

According to a Pew Research study that year, only 32% of those who go online say they would miss it "a lot" if no longer available.

Imagine what those poll numbers would look like if the question was asked today.

RELATED: Bill and Melinda Gates had a surprising answer when asked about a 70 percent tax on the wealthiest Americans

"Few see online activities as essential to them, and no single online feature, with the exception of E-Mail, is used with any regularity," the Pew article said. "Consumers have yet to begin purchasing goods and services online, and there is little indication that online news features are changing traditional news consumption patterns."

"Late Night" host David Letterman had Microsoft founder and, at that time the richest man in the world, on his show for an interview in '95 to discuss the "the big new thing."

During the interview Letterman chided Gates about the usefulness of the new technology, comparing it to radio and tape recorders.

Gates seems excited by the internet because it will soon allow people to listen to a baseball game on their computer. To which Letterman smugly replies, "Does radio ring a bell?" to laughter from the crowd.

But Gates presses Letterman saying that the new technology allows you to listen to the game "whenever you want," to which Letterman responds, "Do tape recorders ring a bell?"

Gates then tells Letterman he can keep up with the latest in his favorite hobbies such as cigar smoking or race cars through the internet. Letterman shuts him down saying that he reads about his interests in magazines.

RELATED: Bill Gates has five books he thinks you should read this summer.

The discussion ends with the two laughing over meeting like-minded people in "troubled loner chat room on the internet."

The clip brings to mind a 1994 segment on "The Today Show" where host Bryant Gumbel and Katie Couric have a similar discussion.

"What is internet anyway?" an exasperated Gumball asks. "What do you write to it like mail?"

"It's a computer billboard but it's nationwide and it's several universities all joined together and it's getting bigger and bigger all the time," a producer explains from off-stage.

Photo by Li-An Lim on Unsplash

The future generations will have to live on this Earth for years to come, and, not surprisingly, they're very concerned about the fate of our planet. We've seen a rise in youth activists, such as Greta Thunberg, who are raising awareness for climate change. A recent survey indicates that those efforts are working, as more and more Americans (especially young Americans) feel concerned about climate change.

A new CBS News poll found that 70% of Americans between 18 and 29 feel climate change is a crisis or a serious problem, while 58% of Americans over the age of 65 share those beliefs. Additionally, younger generations are more likely to feel like it's their personal responsibility to address climate change, as well as think that transitioning to 100% renewable energy is viable. Overall, 25% of Americans feel that climate change is a "crisis," and 35% feel it is a "serious problem." 10% of Americans said they think climate change is a minor problem, and 16% of Americans feel it is not a problem that worries them.

The poll found that concern for the environment isn't a partisan issue – or at least when it comes to younger generations. Two-thirds of Republicans under the age of 45 feel that addressing climate change is their duty, sentiments shared by only 38% of Republicans over the age of 45.

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