By Dr. Jarrod Sadulski
Faculty Member, Criminal Justice, American Military University
Obesity and health-related issues are a growing problem in the United States. For example, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), between 1999 and 2018, the prevalence of obesity in the U.S. rose from 30.5 percent to 42.4 percent. Chronic obesity has nearly doubled from 4.7 percent to 9.2 percent. Poor diets are largely responsible.
Obesity is a major threat because it can lead to health problems such as heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, brain aneurysms, and even certain types of cancer. Although avoidable, obesity nevertheless affects a substantial portion of the population in the U.S. and around the world.
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In addition to health issues, obesity places a strain on the economy. It is estimated that obesity-related health problems are responsible for an annual healthcare bill, which is around 21 percent of the annual medical spending costs in the United States. Sadly, childhood obesity is responsible for $14 billion in annual medical expenses.
Obesity Has Implications for Our Military Recruiting and Manpower
While this is a nationwide problem, it has implications for our military too. In one year, 1,600 servicemembers were discharged for failure to meet the military’s weight and fitness requirements.
In addition to servicemembers who’ve been processed out for being overweight, the number one reason military recruits are rejected is their inability to meet body fat standards. This is a problem because Congress and the Trump administration have increased the number of servicemembers needed in our armed forces.
Obesity in the military is a threat to national security for two main reasons. First, it makes recruiting qualified candidates more difficult, which can have an adverse impact on staffing in the military.
Second, obesity and being overweight limits servicemembers’ ability to do their jobs effectively. Military personnel who fail the periodic body fat standards screening are assigned to a probationary weight loss program. Servicemembers are discharged if they fail to lose enough weight to be in compliance with the body fat standards within a prescribed amount of time. Those in this program can experience increased stress and lessen their ability to focus on their regular training and duties.
The obesity problem is not going away any time soon. According to a new study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 71 percent of young adults between the ages of 17 and 24 do not qualify for military service due to obesity.
This threat to national security is exacerbated by the coronavirus. People who are obese are at a much greater risk of experiencing the severe symptoms associated with the coronavirus Illness COVID-19.
Over 4,000 Coronavirus Patients Identified Severe Obesity as a Major Risk for Hospitalization
For example, a study in New York City involving over 4,000 coronavirus patients identified severe obesity as a major risk factor for hospitalization. Another study in Seattle had similar findings; 85 percent of obese patients required a ventilator compared with 64 percent of patients who were not obese. Moreover, 62 percent of obese patients died compared with 36 percent of patients who were not obese.
In a publication titled “Obesity – An Epidemic that Impacts our National Security,” the researchers found that the rate of obesity is growing and recommended that the President, Congress, and the Department of Defense initiate the following actions:
- Increase the level of physical fitness for children
- Develop programs that steer children away from social media and to fitness programs instead
- Expand the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps units around the nation
- Place an emphasis on a healthy diet
- Reauthorize the child nutrition programs
Obesity is detrimental to our society, so more emphasis needs to be placed on maintaining a healthy weight. This can be accomplished through healthcare or workplace incentives and by increased nutrition education at the community, state, and national levels.
About the Author
Dr. Jarrod Sadulski has been involved in homeland security for over two decades and he is an associate professor at American Military University. He has engaged in speaking engagements in the United States and Central America on the topic of human trafficking. Most recently, he presented at the 2019 International Human Trafficking Conference. His expertise includes infrastructure security, maritime security, homeland security contraband interdiction and intelligence gathering. Jarrod was selected as the Coast Guard’s Reserve McShan Inspirational Leadership Award recipient for 2019.