Saturday, May 01, 2010

Fat Americans pose a threat to national security, generals say

This is rather nonsensical. Even if recruits are fat at enlistment time, a couple of months of hard training and army food will trim them down

INCREASING rates of obesity among young Americans could undermine the future of the US military, with potential recruits increasingly too fat to serve, two retired generals said today.

"Obesity rates threaten the overall health of America and the future strength of our military," generals John Shalikashvili and Hugh Shelton, both former chairs of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, wrote in a commentary.

Obesity disqualified more potential recruits for military service than any other medical factor, the two former commanders wrote in the Washington Post.

The two generals urged Congress to adopt legislation that would ensure better nutrition in schools, offering children more vegetables, fruits and whole grains while cutting back on foods with high sugar, sodium and fat content.

"We consider this problem so serious from a national security perspective that we have joined more than 130 other retired generals, admirals and senior military leaders in calling on Congress to pass new child nutrition legislation," wrote the commanders, part of a non-profit group called Mission: Readiness.

The warning came amid growing concern that childhood obesity has turned into an "epidemic" affecting a staggering one in three American youngsters.

A study released in March warned more American children are becoming extremely obese at a younger age, putting them at risk of dying decades younger than normal-weight children and of suffering old-age illnesses in their 20s.

The US military also faces a problem with troops already serving who are overweight, with some soldiers losing out on promotions because of their failure to meet fitness standards.

Although the military enjoyed record-breaking recruitment levels last year, officials say the growing problem of obesity could present a serious problem for recruitment efforts over time.

The two retired generals endorsed a plan by President Barack Obama's administration to increase funding by $US1 billion ($1.08 billion) a year over 10 years for child nutrition programs.

Investing in nutrition made sense as the country was already spending $US75 billion ($80.87 billion) a year on medical costs associated with obesity, they said.

Citing figures from the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, the commentary said the proportion of potential recruits who flunked their physical tests because they were overweight has jumped nearly 70 per cent since 1995.

General Shalikashvili, who led the Joint Chiefs of Staff from 1993 to 1997, and General Shelton, who held the same post from 1997 to 2001, cited school lunch legislation passed in 1946 as a model.

Military leaders at the time recognised that poor nutrition reduced the pool of qualified candidates for the armed forces, they said.

"We must act, as we did after World War II, to ensure that our children can one day defend our country, if need be."


The coming low-sodium dystopia

Midway through D.C.'s February Snowpocalypse, with dystopian visions dancing in my head, I rented the 1982 sci-fi classic "Blade Runner." The movie's noir-ish picture of Los Angeles in 2019-dimly-lit and rainy, with flying cars, sexy replicants, and gruff, chain-smoking detectives-seems less prescient (and less foreboding) the closer we get to the year it depicts.

As the DVD played, one thought kept distracting me: "It's so cute that they used to think you'd be allowed to smoke in the future."

From a 2010 vantage point, the 21st century seems to promise an entirely different flavor of nightmare-one in which every individual consumption choice is subject to veto by the collective.

Consider the fact that President Obama's choice to head the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Thomas Frieden, doesn't seem to recognize any distinction between diseases you catch -- like swine flu -- and those that involve individual choice, like heart disease. When he served as Mayor Bloomberg's top health official, Frieden instituted mandatory calorie counts on restaurant menus, a trans-fat ban, and sent out swarms of officers to harass bar owners for the crime of having ashtrays.

"When anyone dies at an early age from a preventable cause in New York City, it's my fault," Frieden declared in 2006.

In September, Obama's Food and Drug Administration (FDA) banned clove cigarettes (because they taste good, so kids might like them). The agency's now considering banning menthols. Obamacare makes menu-labeling mandatory for chain restaurants.

And, last week the Washington Post reported that the FDA may "gradually over a period of years," lower the level of sodium allowed in American food, "to adjust the American palate to a less salty diet." Surely as a student of the U.S. Constitution, you're familiar with the clause where the Founding Fathers gave the federal government unlimited jurisdiction over "the American palate"?

Unfortunately, our newly passed health care plan lends weight to the argument that your health affects my pocketbook, and justifies me in telling you how to live. When "we're all in this together," woe betide the man who'd rather be left alone.

In the Eurosocialist paradise our betters have planned for us, we won't even get the good parts of continental life: quaint medieval towns with adorable restaurants serving rich cuisine. We'll get impersonal strip-mall feedbags full of low-sodium, vegan Soylent Green.

Oh, I know: I'm being ridiculous. When a columnist starts ranting about slippery slopes and sci-fi dystopias, it's well past time for last call.

But maybe you've noticed how quickly modern American reality outpaces satire-how often, in the increasingly popular blogpost title, "Life imitates 'The Onion.'"

A similar dynamic is at work when it comes to social engineers' plans to regulate bad behavior out of the human genome. In a 1997 Cato study criticizing trial lawyers' efforts to hold tobacco companies liable for the choices of individual smokers, my colleague Bob Levy closed by deploying the much-derided "slippery slope" argument.

"What's next?" he asked-raising the specter of an American nanny state devoted to protecting us from soft drinks, red meat, and fast foods. More than a decade later, Levy's nightmare looks pretty plausible.

In 1951's Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury pictured a future America run by book-burning censors, where a merry band of dissidents meets secretly to recite banned literature. Perhaps in America 2019, rebels will gather in the fields to smoke menthols and share black-market kosher dills.

If so, sign me up for the resistance, because the FDA can have my salty smoked almonds when they peel them from my cold, dead hands: "Wolverines!!"


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