Dr. Frank Hu, chair of the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health told NBC News that it's become "difficult to be optimistic" regarding the obesity epidemic. He added, "The trend of obesity has been steadily increasing in both children and adults despite many public health efforts to improve nutrition and physical activity."
But the rising rates of obesity among the young people of the United States is especially concerning, for a wide variety of reasons. In addition to the grievous health concerns that come with obesity, a staggering number of American teens are too unfit to even serve in the military or other critical services, like law enforcement or firefighting. In the most fit U.S. state, Colorado, a concerning 26.5 percent of teenagers would be deemed ineligible to serve in the armed forces due to their weight.
In total, an astonishing 70 percent of young people in Colorado, between the ages of 17 and 24, would be ineligible for military service, either because of their weight, criminal record or lack of education. To make matters worse, Colorado is considered to be the "fittest" state in the U.S., which raises the question: How bad off is the rest of the country? Across the nation, 71 percent of young people from the same age group are estimated to be "unfit to serve" under the same conditions.
According to the CDC, "normal weight" Americans, or those with a BMI of 25 or less, are now a minority -- making up just under 30 percent of the population, according to their latest estimates. Data collected by the agency in 2015 suggested that some 14 percent of American high school students were obese -- but it's expected that number will continue to climb, as unfortunate as that may be.
In areas like military service, law enforcement and firefighting, it is easy to see why weight and overall health status are a major concern. Retired Command Sgt. Maj. Terrance McWilliam told the Colorado Springs Gazette, "It gets extremely dangerous when you can’t keep up with the rest of the pack." In 2016, the military revealed that 7.8 percent of troops were overweight -- and that number has been rising over the last several years. While each branch of the military has its own weight or body fat percentage standards, all have a cut-off point that will result in disqualification.
In firefighting and law enforcement, there may not be an exact weight requirement -- but, physical fitness tests still rule.
While many people may argue that weight isn't everything, the fact remains that being obese or overweight can increase your risk for many health conditions, including diabetes and heart disease. These conditions can affect productivity and can slow a service member down, possibly rendering them unable to do their job at some point as well.
Two of the biggest factors driving up obesity in the United States are, of course, food and a lack of physical activity. As NBC News reports, physical activity rates in the U.S. are dropping across the board -- whether that be in the workplace or at home, people are just not moving around as much. Combined with the prevalence of high-calorie, low-nutrient food, and it's a recipe for disaster. As obesity becomes more prevalent in younger children, it becomes a lifelong issue that could one day cripple the country, as too few people will be fit to serve in important service roles.
Sources for this article include: