We all know obesity has become one of America's leading health problems. Here's something you may not know: It's having a big impact on our national security as well.
Obesity has become the leading medical disqualifier for military service. Today, roughly one-quarter of all Americans between the ages of 17 and 24 are too heavy to enlist. Between 2006 and 2011, the military reported that 62,000 recruits who showed up for processing failed their entrance physicals due solely to their weight.
In Oklahoma, 49 percent of young adults ages 18-24 are either overweight or obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's criteria, which is broader than the military's. With child obesity rates trip-ling nationwide during the past 40 years, we need to act.
There's no “silver bullet” solution to this epidemic. However, promoting exercise and good nutrition, and encouraging Americans to make healthier food choices, particularly in the early years, must be part of a successful obesity prevention strategy.
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is the largest federal program providing nutrition assistance to low-income families. More than 70 percent of all benefits are provided to households with children, so encouraging SNAP participants to make healthy food choices is key to promoting health for millions of children in their earliest years — when lifelong eating habits are formed.
Unfortunately, the data indicates that, like most Americans, many children whose families participate in SNAP don't eat enough healthy foods such as fruits and vegetables. It makes sense to ensure that federal resources are being used to foster healthy eating habits, rather than habits that will shorten lives, decrease quality of life and end up costing more taxpayer dollars down the line through increased health costs.
A number of privately run programs around the country are incentivizing healthy purchases among SNAP participants by matching, dollar for dollar, the amount spent on healthy foods at venues like farmers markets. These programs have shown promising results in increased consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables. They also have the added value of supporting local farmers.
As retired military officers and members of the national security organization Mission: Readiness, we recently met with U.S. Rep. Frank Lucas, chairman of the House Committee on Agriculture, to thank him for his past support of SNAP incentive grant programs and to ask him to include a robust SNAP incentive provision in the upcoming farm bill authorization.
This is an important step to make sure that our children are eating better so that the obesity crisis doesn't become a national security crisis. To be sure, our military stands ready to protect against those who would threaten our security. However, in order to sustain military preparedness for the future, we must ensure that upcoming generations of Americans will be fit to serve.
Burpee is a retired U.S. Air Force lieutenant general. Edwards is a retired Air Force major general. They are former commanders of Tinker Air Force Base. Slavonic is a retired U.S. Navy rear admiral.