February 9, 2010
Posted: 02:50 PM ET
When first lady Michelle Obama launches her campaign to reduce child obesity today, many Americans will be cheering her on — including parents, teachers, doctors, business leaders ... and retired generals and admirals such as me. Generals and admirals?
Yes, child obesity has become so serious in this country that military leaders are viewing the epidemic as a potential threat to our national security.
Obesity, it turns out, is the No. 1 reason why applicants fail to qualify for military service, and it is posing serious health problems within the services. The issue is causing heartbreak among some military families that have always had a son or daughter in the service. Today, otherwise excellent recruit prospects, with generations of military service in their family history, are being turned away because they are just too heavy.
A recent report by Mission: Readiness, an organization made up of retired admirals and generals, found that an alarming 75 percent of all young people aged 17 to 24 are unable to join the military. Many young adults do not qualify because they failed to finish high school or have criminal records, but the No. 1 reason, our report found, is obesity.
In the past 30 years, child obesity rates have more than tripled. One in three children, 10 to 17, is overweight or obese, and 27 percent of young adults, 17 to 24, are too heavy to join the military. Every month hundreds of potential recruits fail the physical entrance exam because they are too overweight.
The latest medical evidence suggests that obesity is becoming an even greater threat to America’s youth than smoking. Medical experts are predicting that this generation is on track to have a shorter life span than their parents. None of us want this kind of future for our children. That is why many of us with extensive military experience are supporting efforts to reduce child obesity.
For national security, the logic is obvious. We need America’s service members to be in excellent physical condition because they have such an important job to do. Rigorous service standards are critical if we are to maintain the fighting readiness of our military. The physical training that military recruits undergo is meant to prepare men and women for service that requires real stamina, endurance and grit.
Gen. Johnnie E. Wilson retired from the U.S. Army in 1999 and serves on the Executive Advisory Council of Mission: Readiness.
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