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Retired military leaders: Obesity having an impact on our national security

BY RICHARD A. BURPEE, JAY T. EDWARDS AND GREG SLAVONIC Modified: March 22, 2013 at 4:29 pm •  Published: March 23, 2013

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.

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