Pen­tagon’s lat­est na­tional se­cu­rity threat – obe­sity

The Star Malaysia - - World -

WASH­ING­TON: For­get about the high-tech mil­i­tary chal­lenges from China and Rus­sia, the Pen­tagon is fac­ing a fast-grow­ing na­tional se­cu­rity threat that could be even trick­ier to tackle: Amer­ica’s obe­sity cri­sis.

A study re­leased this week has found that nearly one-third of young Amer­i­cans are now too over­weight to join up, a wor­ry­ing statis­tic for mil­i­tary of­fi­cials al­ready fac­ing re­cruit­ment chal­lenges.

“Obe­sity has long threat­ened our na­tion’s health. As the epi­demic grows, obe­sity is pos­ing a threat to our na­tion’s se­cu­rity as well,” the Coun­cil for a Strong Amer­ica states in its new re­port.

The Army last month an­nounced it would miss its goal of at­tract­ing 76,500 new re­cruits in 2018. The short­fall is of about 6,500 sol­diers – the first time since 2005 the ser­vice had missed its hir­ing tar­gets.

A strong US econ­omy and tight jobs mar­ket played a role, but the num­bers high­light the dwin­dling pool of ap­pli­cants the Pen­tagon has to draw from.

Ac­cord­ing to the De­fence Depart­ment, obe­sity is one of the top rea­sons why a stun­ning 71% of Amer­i­cans aged 17-24 do not meet the mil­i­tary’s sign-up re­quire­ments.

“Given the high per­cent­age of Amer­i­can youth who are too over­weight to serve, re­cruit­ing chal­lenges will con­tinue un­less mea­sures are taken to en­cour­age a healthy life­style be­gin­ning at a young age,” states the study, en­ti­tled “Un­healthy and Un­pre­pared”.

Other fac­tors such as prior drug use or a lack of aca­demic qual­i­fi­ca­tions are also tak­ing a toll.

The re­port, com­piled by a group of re­tired gen­er­als and ad­mi­rals, notes that the obe­sity is­sue is a par­tic­u­lar worry as it comes when fewer young peo­ple are in­ter­ested in join­ing the mil­i­tary in the first place.

De­fence Sec­re­tary Jim Mat­tis, a re­tired Ma­rine gen­eral, last month said the shrink­ing pool of Amer­i­cans el­i­gi­ble to serve was a “big con­cern”.

“It’s a sad state of af­fairs when 71% of the 18 to 24-year-old males in this coun­try can­not qual­ify to en­ter the United States Army as a pri­vate,” he said.

The prob­lem should be ad­dressed at the lo­cal level, he said, prais­ing ef­forts of re­tired ser­vice mem­bers who are work­ing in schools “to try to re­store phys­i­cal ed­u­ca­tion where it’s been taken out, to try to get school lunches to be things that fuel the body, in­stead of just giv­ing them crummy food”.

The obe­sity prob­lem per­sists even af­ter boot camp.

Ac­cord­ing to re­tired Army ma­jor gen­eral Jef­frey Phillips, the mil­i­tary spends more than US$1.5bil (RM6.2bil) each year treat­ing obe­sity-re­lated health con­di­tions.

“I saw it my­self: pudgy sol­diers vis­i­bly push­ing, or be­yond, the ‘height and weight’ stan­dards,” Phillips wrote in the Mil­i­tary Times.

The new re­port says the Pen­tagon has recog­nised the long-stand­ing obe­sity prob­lem, and is tak­ing steps to im­prove the health of its troops.

One Army pro­gramme, known as the Per­for­mance Triad, “aims to im­prove sol­dier readi­ness and en­cour­age healthy be­hav­iours, and to pro­vide sup­port to sol­diers in these ar­eas”.

The Army has also in­tro­duced a new phys­i­cal fit­ness test that mea­sures the like­li­hood re­cruits will go on to meet the phys­i­cal de­mands of their se­lected mil­i­tary job.

Many mil­i­tary fa­cil­i­ties are equipped with top-notch gyms, and din­ing fa­cil­i­ties on US bases around the world of­ten pro­vide nu­tri­tional guide­lines.

The re­port con­cludes that the so­lu­tion lies in en­sur­ing chil­dren and par­ents learn about the vi­tal im­por­tance of healthy eat­ing and phys­i­cal ac­tiv­ity from a young age.

Obe­sity has long threat­ened our na­tion’s health. As the epi­demic grows, obe­sity is pos­ing a threat to our na­tion’s se­cu­rity as well. Coun­cil for a Strong Amer­ica

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