Obesity battle should start with cafeterias

Freedom New Mexico

Childhood obesity has been a growing problem for several years. One of the biggest battles regarding the issue has been in school cafeterias, which must deal with the conflicting problems of low income and overconsumption.

Because of predominant low household incomes, some public school districts provide free breakfasts and lunches to all their students. At the same time, body weights are increasing while fitness levels are falling among those same students.

Lawmakers have written laws regulating menus and restricting snack sales on campuses. Minimum hours of physical education have even been decreed to try to make our children healthier.

Teachers and parents even have to be sneaky these days when they want to bring in cookies or cupcakes to celebrate holidays and birthdays.

So far those efforts haven’t produced measurable improvement.

The problem has gotten so bad that a military support group says it’s becoming a national security issue. Mission: Readiness, a group of retired military people, announced recently that most American youngsters are in such bad shape they can’t handle the physical demands of military service. Increasing numbers of enlistees are being rejected because the recruits are overweight, according to a report the group issued.

Nine million young Americans — 27 percent of all those ages 17 to 24 — are in too poor physical shape to be in the military.

If the trend continues, our fighting forces will be unable to maintain proper troop levels by the year 2030, the group warns.

“When over a quarter of young adults are too fat to fight, we need to take notice,” retired Navy Rear Adm. James Barnett Jr. told The Associated Press. He added that our future national security is “absolutely dependent” on reversing child obesity rates.

Indeed, as the Kansas City Star reports, the Army has had to completely revise its boot camp training to deal with recruits who have spent most of their youth playing videogames instead of sports and outdoor games. Drill sergeants put their recruits through fewer traditional calisthenics like jumping jacks and spend more time trying to stretch and build up core muscle groups, such as backs and abdomens, that have been underutilized. Wind sprints have given way to long, slow jogs meant to build up basic endurance.

Mission: Readiness places the blame on school lunches they say are filled with pizza, French fries and other unhealthy foods. Schools have been working to create menus that are healthier, but that children are still willing to eat.

The sole responsibility can’t rest on school cooks and nutritionists, however.

As in all matters affecting our nation’s youth, the primary onus rests squarely with the parents. Many have been all too happy to let their children spend hours in front of the television, computer or game monitor because they keep the children busy. Those hours without physical activity, however, tend to show up later on the children’s waistlines, and could later hurt their health and the family’s medical costs.

Even as we hope for a peaceful world, it’s important to maintain military forces that are prepared for whatever might arise. Suggesting that we might not have enough healthy people to respond if needed might seem alarmist now, but it’s worth considering.

At the very least, parents should make every effort to ensure their own children aren’t among those who are too fat to be of any use for their own country.