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Posted at 07:00 AM ET, 09/25/2012

Childhood obesity becomes a military matter

An interesting set of new childhood obesity fighters will march into the National Press Club today: military leaders.

Their mission is to engage the public on a new angle of an epidemic that is now largely seen as a health and parenting issue. They will argue that childhood obesity is a threat to national security.

“About 1 in 4 young American adults is now too overweight to join the military. Being overweight or obese is the number one medical reason why young adults cannot enlist,” begins a report that the group released this morning in anticipation of their press conference.
(SCHNABEL STUDIOS/M. DILLARD RETOUCHING TO CVN 79)

Signing on to the campaign are 300 retired generals and admirals, including Richard Myers, the former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff ,and James M. Loy, former Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security.

“In the civilian world, unfit or overweight employees can impact the bottom line. But in our line of work, lives are on the line and our national security is at stake,” retired Air Force general Richard E. Hawley told authors of today’s report.

The group has worked together before, most notably on a 2010 report called “Too Fat to Fight” that called for healthier food options in schools.

The new report specifically targets the accessibility of junk food in schools. It crunches numbers collected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to relay that the amount of junk food purchased and consumed within schools in the U.S. in a single year is the equivalent to 90,000 tons of candy bars, or more than the weight of an aircraft carrier.

Never heard that analogy before.

It’s the recruiting figure, however, that stands out as even more shocking. Each service branch has different health requirements for recruits that have become out of reach to many young adults. Suffice to say, it’s not the requirements that have become tougher (in fact, the military has eased up in recent years), but the population that has become broader.

There’s also the matter of a physical fitness test, which recruits must pass if they meet the height and weight requirements. Military leaders are seeing poorer and poorer results in these as well.

In fact, officials have had to create and finance special training to address the inadequate fitness level of many recruits. A sort of pre-basic training training.

The report estimates that the military spends over a billion dollars on ameliorating weight-related problems and medical insurance for military members and their families who need care for obesity-related conditions.

The group goes on to call for school districts to limit the sale of junk food and for national legislation to enforce those limits. In pointing out that the military is introducing healthier foods in its own schools and facilities, the report issues a terse order: “The civilian sector needs to do its part.”

What do you think? Is school junk food the or a primary culprit in the obesity epidemic?

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By  |  07:00 AM ET, 09/25/2012

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