Is Obesity Threatening Our National Security?

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US Army Private First Class Bradley Manning (L), surrounded by US military, arrives at a US military Magistrate Court facility during an Article 32 hearing at Fort Meade, Maryland on December 19, 2011
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Obesity is a widely recognized public health crisis. Could it also be a threat to national security?

Twenty-seven percent of Americans aged 17 to 24 are too fat to serve in the United States military. Add that number to those who cannot serve because they have a criminal record or have not graduated from high school, and that means 75 percent of our nation's youth are not eligible to serve in uniform.

According to a new report out Tuesday entitled “Still Too Fat to Fight” (pdf) from the advocacy group Mission: Readiness, that makes obesity America’s greatest threat to national security.

Mission: Readiness is a nonpartisan group of 100 retired generals and admirals. General Norman Seip, is a retired Air Force General and a member of Mission: Readiness.

"We look at this as a team effort," says General Seip. "What's great about our country is that when we decide there's a problem out there that we want to solve, we go and do exactly that." He believes that if America decided to rid itself of the obesity epidemic, we would be able to find a solution.

Perhaps this sounds overly optimistic, but General Seip thinks finding a solution is essential if the American armed forces are to be as strong as we need them. "At the end of the day, what keeps America safe and secure is not the tanks, and not the aircrafts, and not the ships, and not the technology. It's the proud men and women that serve."

Even if you aren't interested in serving in the army, General Seip wants to encourage everyone to adopt a healthier lifestyle, and to promote the same values within their families and communities. "You're going to be a better person in that work force out there," he says. "It's just as competitive as what we find in the military."