A 'Growing' Problem - Obesity a concern for veterans, recruits and kids

  • Published
  • By Capt. Fe Lobo-Menendez
  • 20th Medical Support Squadron
Leonardo da Vinci's iconic drawing of the "Vitruvian Man," along with the accompanying text, is sometimes called "Proportions of Man." Created around the year 1492 as a scientific study of the proportions of the male human body, his artwork probably would look different if redone today, as the "proportions of man" (and woman) have changed over the years. Case in point: A short time ago, I sat in my friend's living room sharing pictures from her past.

It was her high school year book, 1967, and something very striking caught my eye.

"Wow, all of you were skinny!"

My friend laughed, and staring at the picture responded, "You are right; I hadn't thought about it or noticed it."

Not one adolescent in her senior class appeared overweight.

After enjoying and sharing a few snapshots of her past, we said our goodbyes and I left to pick up my children from school. Arriving at their high school with my friend's yearbook pictures still vivid in my mind, I was shocked to observe that many of the children walking out of school, gathering by the bus stop, walking to their cars or waiting for a ride, were overweight. These adolescents represent the pool of potential recruits comprising the future of our armed forces.

It's not uncommon for adults to hear and even say, "When I was a kid, I could eat anything and not gain a pound."

Yet as adults it becomes increasingly difficult to maintain an ideal weight.

It's an alarming fact that the average American adult gains at least 2 pounds per year over his or her lifetime. This means that a hypothetical 18-year-old weighing 150 pounds could weigh 274 pounds by age 80, almost double his or her weight.

While this example is overly simplistic, it does illustrate a disturbing trend about the declining health of our country's population. Perhaps even more concerning, we are not just maturing toward obesity, but obesity is increasing among our children.

The obesity epidemic is a public health concern and is being increasingly publicized in the media and by our military leaders. A recent article published by the Associated Press -- "Are U.S. Troops too Fat to Fight?" -- illustrates the overweight trends of the active and reserve components as well as the weight issues plaguing new accessions entering military service.

This article claims that 20 percent of all male applicants and 40 percent of female candidates are too heavy to enter the military. So, recruits are being told to lose weight and reapply.

Data from the U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine indicates that 58.4 percent of Soldiers, age 21 and older, are overweight by federal standards, and 36.5 percent of Soldiers age 20 and younger do not meet the Body Mass Index standard.

This epidemic will certainly have a negative impact not only on individuals, but on society as a whole. Besides the increased risk for numerous chronic diseases and their socioeconomic impact on the nation, the inability to maintain a fit force could add a "heavy" burden to the military ranks.

On Jan. 1, 2004, then Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. John Jumper implemented the Fit to Fight Program. This program is not just designed to pass an annual physical fitness test, but to change the culture of the Air Force and make fitness part of an Airman's lifestyle. Since implementation, commanders and senior NCOs, who play a key role in enforcing the new fitness standards and embracing this change in culture, have overseen an approximate 80-percent pass rate compared to 69 percent before implementation Air Force-wide.

So you might ask yourself, "What can I do to stop the trend?"

We have to lead our troops to a healthier, fit lifestyle. All of us have to sell exercise and good diet to our Airmen. This will ensure the U.S. military maintains its legacy as the fastest, leanest and most powerful military in the world.