Our obesity crisis is a threat to national security

Diabetes    Health literacy

DURING A RECENT visit with a cardiologist, I was told something I hadn’t heard before. The majority of people, he said, aren’t afraid to die––they’re afraid of suffering during the process. That’s why, he told me, his conversations with patients have changed from “your lifestyle is going to kill you” to “your lifestyle is going to torture you to death”. He hopes that by appealing to the fears of his patients, he will make the necessary impact once they leave his office.

If that sounds extreme, it is only because the problem we are facing is extreme. In fact, our obesity crisis is now so serious that military experts are calling it a threat to our national security. An article published on Yahoo.com this week describes how not long after taking office, President Trump, taking the advice of senior military advisors, was seriously considering a “massive troop surge” in Afghanistan as a way of ending 16 years of war. In August, he told troops directly that he would not order troops to pull out, as he had done in the past, and had changed his mind.

But new information suggests that plan may have to change. The Heritage Foundation, a major think-tank, has said that 70 per cent of military-age Americans aren’t fit enough to serve. More than two thirds of 17-24-year-olds in the United States are unfit to serve in our Army, Navy, Marines or Air Force. And why? According to the director of the Heritage Foundation’s Center for National Defense, Thomas Spoehr, obesity is the culprit.

Spoehr is an army veteran of 36 years. In Missouri he ran an Army training camp, where he watched new soldiers arriving. He told Yahoo that no one expects a potential recruit to arrive at camp as “a lean, mean fighting machine”, but it’s when you get to the point of obesity that “the services worry you could be a danger to yourself and there’s not enough time for us to get you down to an acceptable weight.” According to Spoehr, the manpower shortage “directly compromises national security.”

In 2015, U.S. Army Recruiting Command Major General Allen Batschelet said the obesity issue “is most troubling, because the trend is going in the wrong direction. By 2020, it could be as high as 50 per cent, which means only two in 10 would qualify to join the Army.”

He isn’t the only one. Studies going back to 2011 have predicted a huge rise in the number of obese people in America over the next 10 years. Meanwhile, the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the number of obese Americans is at 36.5 per cent. It contributes to some of the leading causes of death in this country, such as diabetes. And it costs the country upwards of $150 billion each year. Now, we’re at risk of being unable to resolve bloody conflicts overseas and defend ourselves because of our failure to manage our health, to educate ourselves and each other about nutrition and exercise and to find other ways to end the obesity epidemic.

That epidemic has already had a serious and detrimental effect on our police departments and our national workforce. It has caused increases in our medical expenditure, crippled our productivity and even reduced our life spans––in less than 10 years’ time, we will have statistical documentation showing that, for the first time in history, the average American’s life span will have gone down, not up. The attention we give to providing the education and motivation necessary to end this downward spiral is abysmal. Frankly it’s irresponsible.

The military comprises volunteers, many of whom truly want to serve our country and are disappointed if they can’t pass the physical tests necessary to qualify. But our culture allows people to move from one life event to the next without ever making an effort to achieve anything, and expecting others to provide for them. Yes, we will have a national emergency because of our out-of-shape, overweight, self-entitled approach to living if there is not a significant change in how we educate ourselves and others about the dangers our lifestyles pose, and in how we motivate ourselves to take responsibility for our health. A wrong action or answer can’t be treated with the person’s feelings in mind. It must be met with a firm, “you’re wrong––try again.” Only in this way will we learn from our mistakes and strive to be better.

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