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Modern Parenthood

Too fat to fight: Is childhood obesity a national security threat?

"Too fat to fight," a new study by former Pentagon military chiefs, says school junk food and childhood obesity are a national security threat -- with more than a quarter of 17- to 24-year-old Americans too heavy to join the military if they wanted to.

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This group takes the approach that lack of exercise is not the primary influence in childhood obesity, and the report cites a Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health Report:  “It also turns out that lack of exercise is not the primary culprit. Although children and adults exercise less than they should, exercise patterns have not changed dramatically in recent decades while obesity patterns have. What has changed in recent years is the availability and lower prices of food products that are high in sugar, fat, and salt and the increased pressures on families’ time. Over the past two decades, Americans have increased their daily calorie intake by 250 to 300 calories, with approximately half of the additional calories coming from sugar-sweetened drinks.”

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Lisa Suhay, who has four sons at home in Norfolk, Va., is a children’s book author and founder of the Norfolk (Va.) Initiative for Chess Excellence (NICE) , a nonprofit organization serving at-risk youth via mentoring and teaching the game of chess for critical thinking and life strategies.

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Mission: Readiness spent the past two years concentrating on the issue of how childhood obesity is affecting the military in its state of readiness to fight and the cost of medical insurance and preparedness initiatives that have had to be expanded to fit the needs of less fit military recruits.

According to today’s report by Mission Readiness: “Every year, the military discharges over 1,200 first-term enlistees before their contracts are up because of weight problems; the military must then recruit and train their replacements at a cost of $50,000 for each man or woman, thus spending more than $60 million a year.”

According to Mr. Carrier, the Department of Defense spends an estimated $1.1 billion per year for medical care associated with excess fat and obesity.

The report also maps the problem states; and my state, Virginia, is right up there in the mix. The report shows that over a 10-year period, the number of states with 40 percent or more of their young adults who were overweight or obese went from one to 39.

The National PTA, put out a flyer on how parents can get into the loop on school nutrition which suggests: Make sure you know how healthy your school’s environment is and what needs to be improved. Visit the school, talk to the principal, and work with your PTA, school administrators and food service directors to find out: What are kids eating when they’re at school? Is junk food readily available? How much time is provided for physical activity? What can be done to make your school environment healthier?

The flyer also tells parents to find out if there is an existing group working to address nutrition and/or physical activity issues. AND, While policies are being developed at the district level, it suggests working with your PTA to develop a wellness committee for your own school.

I am taking on the final piece of advice offered by the National PTA which is “Spread the Word.” While some might take offense at more people on the parenting dogpile, advising and telling us our kids are facing fit or fat choices, I think there is strength in numbers. 

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As Cartoonist William Rostler once said, “You won't find a solution by saying there is no problem.” Of course just saying it won’t go far if we don’t exercise and flex those parenting muscles at the same time. Only then will we be able to report that it's "mission accomplished."

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