It's bad enough that childhood obesity threatens the health of a generation. But when obese kids grow up to be obese adults, they're unfit for the military.
A group of retired generals, admirals and other senior military leaders is raising new concerns about the obesity epidemic and military mobility that cannot be ignored. The group, Mission: Readiness, recently released a report on how the sharp rise in obesity rates among young people during the past 15 years is jeopardizing military recruitment.
In the study, "Too Fat to Fight," the nonprofit group reports that 9 million young adults, or 27 percent of all Americans aged 17 to 24, are too fat to join the military.
"When that many young adults can't fight because of their weight, it affects our national preparedness and national security," said retired rear admiral Jamie Barnett, who, with other group members, is calling for passage of a wide-ranging nutrition bill that aims to make the nation's school lunches healthful.
Putting cafeteria fare on the level of a national security threat may be "dramatic," said Karen Glanz, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania Schools of Medicine and Nursing. But considering how much students eat during the school day, "it's not entirely unjustified."
The report cites research showing that students get as much as 40 percent of their daily caloric intake at school and that 80 percent of young people who were overweight when they were 10 to 15 years old were obese by age 25.
"Since 1995, the proportion of recruits who failed their physical exams because they were overweight has risen by nearly 70 percent," added Gen. John Shalikashvili, a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
The trend must be reversed. School is an excellent place to start, by improving the quality of food served in lunchrooms and influencing kids' choices about what they eat.
Changing habits at home is the next big challenge.