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We must fight the obesity epidemic among our children

A regular breakfast habit could curb child obesity.
A regular breakfast habit could curb child obesity. | REUTERS/John Vizcaino

A factor all Americans must face quickly is the exploding obesity epidemic among our young. An epidemic which not only disqualifies most American young people from military service but creates horrendous long-term health problems. According to Former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist and Retired Admiral Frank Ponds, “the Department of Defense’s most recent figures show that an astonishing 77% of Americans of prime recruiting age would be ineligible for military service. This is a massive increase. Over three-quarters of American young people are ineligible due to some combination of factors, chief among them obesity.” Childhood obesity has tripled in the past three decades, and during the COVID lockdowns, obesity rates have skyrocketed.

Not only is the obesity crisis not being properly covered by the mainstream media, but progressives have begun to stigmatize concerns about this problem as being “fatphobia”. It is time for Americans to show true love for our children, the kind of tough love many of us remember from our parents and grandparents growing up. 

First, the effects on military recruiting are a national problem. Today America has the highest obesity rates in the world, with one out of every six children considered obese and one in three overweight. By contrast, in the 1970s only 5% of children (aged 2-19) were obese. Obesity in childhood portents catastrophically harmful health problems for children. It harms the heart, lungs, muscles, kidneys, bones, digestion, and the hormones controlling blood sugar and puberty. Importantly, obese children are likely to remain overweight or obese throughout their lives with all the health complications that follow. Boys are now far more likely to be obese (19% versus 15% for girls).

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Though both sexes are suffering higher levels of obesity, the substantially higher rate of obesity in boys causes unique harm. Specifically, testosterone levels plummet due to obesity in boys and men. The reduced testosterone caused by obesity brings not only a reduced sperm count but fatigue, lower muscle/bone growth, and a host of disorders. The list is long and troubling. Perhaps the most detrimental consequence is that lower testosterone causes further weight gain by reducing metabolism and muscle growth in a spiraling effect. This cycle can last for decades, reducing quality of life and life expectancy.

The childhood obesity epidemic is directly tied to the many lifestyle changes parents have allowed over the past few decades. For those of us over 50, we remember mandatory physical education classes from kindergarten through 12th grade. That was the norm in both public and private schools through the 1990s and had been a universal standard since the middle of the 20th century. Unfortunately, that requirement went by the wayside, particularly since the 1990s.  By “2016, only 21.6% of children and adolescents aged 6 to 19 met the recommended 60 or more minutes of moderate-to-vigorous activity at least five times a week, according to the CDC.” The number of children involved in sports during childhood years has decreased significantly, as have the numbers of children involved in free play. The norm has become the child being behind a computer screen most of the time outside of class.

In addition to the decreased activity, the diet of most children today leaves much to be desired. An unreported trend over the past few decades has been the plummeting number of children eating meals with a family. Studies are clear that children who eat under the supervision of parents/family at mealtime are substantially more likely to eat healthier food. Additionally, those children eating with families show substantially fewer incidents of eating disorders leading to obesity. Of course, much of this is connected to the steep rise in children raised in single-parent homes and the unlikelihood of eating together under that condition.

A major challenge to fixing this problem is a new progressive agenda seeking to normalize obesity and prevent the proper encouragement to exercise and dieting. Just one headline from a progressive article on this subject makes the point of what this agenda is doing to stigmatize the fight against obesity: “Diet Culture Rooted in Racism, White Supremacy, and Colonialism.”

It gets worse, and the tired progressive cry of racism is now continually thrown against those encouraging dieting. Several magazines have also joined the effort to normalize obesity, diminishing the warnings of health risks and societal problems. Including the problem of the United States being able to defend itself from societies like the Chinese who do take this issue seriously.

The Bible gives warning about this problem by telling us, “Gluttons become poor, and drowsiness clothes them in rags” (Proverbs 23:21). Obesity is not normal and not healthy, and our children depend on us to show the tough love of truth. Saving them from the consequences of obesity and saving our nation by raising those who can fight for her has always been a top priority. It should remain that.

Bill Connor, a retired Army Infantry colonel, author and Orangeburg attorney, has deployed multiple times to the Middle East. Connor was the senior U.S. military adviser to Afghan forces in Helmand Province, where he received the Bronze Star. A Citadel graduate with a JD from USC, he is also a Distinguished Graduate of the U.S. Army War College, earning his master of strategic studies. He is the author of the book Articles from War.

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