Addressing America’s obesity crisis can improve military readiness

Thirteen years ago, a small group of retired military leaders formed an organization called Mission: Preparedness to Raise Awareness of a Significant Challenge to Our Nation’s Security. At the time, the Department of Defense had just released shocking figures showing that 75% of 17- to 24-year-olds across the country were ineligible for military service. This challenge was caused by three main factors: recruits were not academically prepared, were significantly over weight standards, or had criminal or drug abuse records.

Over the years, Mission: Readiness’ membership has grown to nearly 800 retired admirals and generals. We’ve used our collective experience to drive meaningful change across the country, including better nutrition in schools, preservation of physical education programming, and additional resources for early childhood, after-school programs, and summer learning initiatives.

in 2013 The DoD’s Joint Advertising, Market Research and Studies released an updated study indicating that from 75 to 71 percent This change was not due to a significant improvement in causal factors. Rather, the study revised and updated earlier estimates using more recent data and incorporating correlates of disqualifying conditions that resulted in the overlap of multiple disqualifying factors.

This summer, the DoD shared preliminary data from its survey of qualified military personnel showing that the ineligibility rate had increased from 71% to 77%. This time it wasn’t a matter of improved data.

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Instead, the results showed that factors contributing to the main causes of unfitness had worsened. It’s also important to note that the study was completed in 2020, so it doesn’t capture the full impact of COVID-19.

Despite this troubling news, it is important to recognize that over the past decade we have made great strides in preparing America’s youth to be productive members of society. For example, national high school graduation rates have improved and crime rates have decreased. While this improvement is encouraging, we must continue to build on this progress and, importantly, address the more problematic areas.

In particular, we continue to see a rise in obesity rates among young people. 2017-2020 The prevalence of obesity among children and adolescents aged 2-19 years was 19.7%, affecting about 14.7 million people. By all indications, the pandemic has exacerbated the problem. The CDC recently released a report quantifying how pandemic-related disruptions have affected weight gain. 19.3 percent of the subjects were obese in 2019, and 22.4 percent the following year.

The high rate of incompetence in the military is the result of decades of negative policies, habits, and inaction that have taken a toll on our society, especially children. Addressing these challenges will take decades longer if we don’t come together and invest in the health of our children where they live, learn and play.

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Fortunately, there are some steps that can make a big difference in the lives of these children while strengthening long-term national security.

For example, ensuring that all children have consistent access to fresh and nutritious food throughout the year is essential to ensuring that children grow up healthy and ready for success. Increased funding for school meal programs is critical to helping children get healthy food. Congress should work together to increase access to healthy food for all children through the Child Nutrition Act and the Farm Bill, which passes every five years.

Regular physical activity in children and adolescents improves health, physical fitness and cognitive function. Experts recommend that children and adolescents between the ages of 6 and 17 engage in 60 minutes or more of moderate to vigorous physical activity each day. Schools are a great place to help make this happen.

Other places that provide physical education programs and physical activity for children are after-school and summer learning programs. These programs help mitigate the negative side effects of out-of-class time and improve student outcomes. A meta-analysis of 68 after-school programs across the country found that participants did better on state achievement tests in reading and math, had higher GPAs and attended more school.

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Make no mistake, the factors driving America’s growing problem of military inadequacy are a matter of national security, but the challenge has much broader implications. Every sector of society is actively competing for the 23% of 17-24 year olds who are healthy, well-educated and high-achieving. Therefore, our nation will benefit greatly if we work together to increase that percentage and prepare our youth to be ready and able to serve their nation in any way they can.

Retired General Richard B. Myers was the 15th chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

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