Childhood obesity now a matter of national security says retired generals, admirals

On the eve of Veterans day, a group of retired generals and admirals released a report urging California policy makers to take a more active role in aiding the federal government’s war on childhood obesity. The fact that one in four young adults in both California and the nation as a whole are too overweight to serve in the military is a “very real threat to national security”, say former top military brass.

The group of 250 retired, high-ranking military officials calls itself Mission: Readiness. Its study entitled, Unfit to Fight: A Report on California, was delivered at a San Diego Elementary School on Wednesday by the school’s District Superintendent and retired Rear Admiral of the US Navy William A. Kowba. He was joined by Admiral Leon A. “Bud” Edney, US Navy (Ret.) and Major General James W. Comstock, US Army (Ret.). They called on schools across California to ensure that physical education requirements are adequately funded and met.

“Providing students with daily PE and other opportunities for exercise at school can help protect them from becoming obese, improve their health and even improve – not hinder – their academic achievement,” Superintendent Kowba said, adding that the benefits of moderate-to-vigorous exercise for school children remain whether or not those students choose to enlist in the military after they reach the age of consent.

A day prior to the issuance of the Mission:Readiness’ report, the California Endowment released a related study, which found that the percentage of overweight California school children has slightly declined, except for a few Bay Area counties. Even so, the group said there is much work to do.

Based on California Endowment’s recently compiled statistics:

-One third of California 12-year-olds do not participate in daily physical education classes and that increases to 85 percent by age 17.

-Physical fitness tests show that one third of ninth-grade students in California lack basic aerobic capacity, almost one quarter of students lack basic upper-body strength and more than one third are overweight.

“As former military leaders, we know how critical physical activity is for developing able-bodied citizens who are able to serve their country if they so choose,” said Major General Comstock. “We all need to work together in these efforts to prevent our current child obesity crisis from becoming a national security crisis.”

The group says that weight problems, poor educational achievement and criminal backgrounds prevent about 75 percent of young Americans from being able to enlist.

“You have a shrinking pool of eligible people, and that pool has got to start going the other way,” said Maj. Gen. Comstock. “That’s why it’s a security issue.”

The problem isn’t just about extra pounds but an overall lack of physical conditioning. The retired officials emphasized that unfit recruits who meet weight requirements are decreasing battle effectiveness as well. Recruits who did not exercise or play sports in school have higher rates of sprains and stress fractures and are three times more likely to be medically discharged than their more athletic counterparts.

“It takes years, not months, to build a strong, healthy body. Good fitness begins in childhood and must continue through the teenage years,” said Admiral Edney. “Even in the midst of today’s obesity crisis, most students do not participate in adequate levels of physical activity.”

The group did praise state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson for his efforts in establishing a statewide team tasked with promoting healthy eating and physical activity in schools and communities across the golden state.