Is Obesity Tipping the Scales of the National Security Threat Level?

Posted by Mallika Chopra

terror_scale_001We need programs like Michelle Obama's "Let's Move" to ensure the health-and safety-of future generations.

"Lets Move," says Michelle Obama in her first nationwide initiative as First Lady, and the country needs to do just that. With two thirds of American adults, and one third of American children overweight or obese, Michelle Obama has taken a bold, public step to address a problem that affects the health, productivity, economy, and dare I say, the security of our nation.The U.S. obesity problem is complex, but the First Lady is addressing it head on. "This isn't like putting a man on the moon or inventing the Internet," she said recently. "It doesn't take a stroke of genius or a feat of technology. We have everything we need right now to help our kids lead healthy lives."The initiative brings together federal agencies, non profits, and businesses for a ground-up redesign of our health landscape. Let's Move is rethinking school lunches and breakfasts, remaking  neighborhoods for walking and playing, providing healthier food options in underserved neighborhoods, and encouraging doctors to regularly check Body Mass Indices (BMIs) for early detection of obesity  risk.Just recently, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention showed that one in five U.S. teens has unhealthy cholesterol levels. The rate jumps to 41 percent for obese children. In children, abnormal cholesterol levels-defined as low HDL (good cholesterol), high LDL (bad cholesterol), or high levels of triglycerides-could lead to health problems like heart disease, diabetes, asthma, high blood pressure, and a host of other illnesses. Chronic diseases, such as asthma, heart disease, and diabetes, account for 75 percent of health care spending today, so fighting obesity is a key to disease prevention.Aside from disease-related health care costs, the loss of productivity has a real impact on American society. The leading disqualification from enrolling in the U.S. Armed Forces is being overweight. The retired army general Johnnie Wilson says 75 percent of young people at the prime ages for military recruitment, 17 to 24, aren't fit to serve; they're too fat to serve, making obesity, in the General's estimation, a national security issue.Inspiring programs, like Shape Up Somerville in Somerville, Massachusetts, have paved the path for other communities to follow. The program, launched by Tufts University in 2002 and supported by the CDC and philanthropic groups, holistically approaches lifestyle and infrastructure. Shape Up replaced unhealthy snacks and drinks in schools with healthy choices, added bike lanes and pedestrian walkways so people would ride or walk to school or work, encouraged neighborhoods to create community gardens and restaurants to add healthy dishes to their menus. The result in one year was astounding: School children in Somerville gained 15 percent less weight than their peers. Less weight gain has a significant impact for the long term health and weight gain of children who are prone to obesity.While Michelle Obama works on the macro level to change school programs and community infrastructure, ultimately, it's up to parents to instill changes at home and within our communities to realize healthier, lifelong habits for our children. A study recently released by Ohio State University showed that young children who ate dinner with their parents and siblings, got adequate sleep, and had limited TV time were almost 40 percent less likely to be obese than those from less disciplined households.So let's look at the micro level. Here are some ideas of how we parents can foster healthy lifestyle habits in our children.Lead by example. If we want our kids to eat healthy and exercise, we need to do the same. I'm a big believer in achieving a healthy, moderate, balance in diet and exercise for myself and my kids. As the First Lady says, "There is a place in this life for cookies and ice cream and burgers and fries. That is a part of childhood. This is just about balance, about really small changes that can add up, like walking to school when you can, replacing soda with water or skim milk, trimming portions just a little."Encourage our children to find an activity they love. Support participation in team sports. Introduce them to yoga classes, Wii Fit games, Dance Dance Revolution, hula-hooping, walking the dog, etc. The family that plays together, stays together.Seek out physically active cultural activities like Taiko drumming or learning traditional cultural dance. My 8-year old daughter takes Indian dance classes every week. It's rigorous physically, but it also helps her learn about her culture and meet other Indian kids in our community.Organize fun fitness activities with fellow parents in the area. Anyone for volleyball in the park or beach runs?Make eating and exercising a family affair. Make breakfast a time to set intents for the coming day, and dinner a time to catch up on all that happened. Start walking or riding bikes together to school or on weekends with your kids.I applaud Michelle Obama, as a mother and the First Lady, for bringing awareness and action to our serious obesity problem. I hope as individuals and communities, we take on the tasks to improve our lives, families, and communities.Read more