I know that this is a blog focused on national security and military affairs, so you may be asking what obesity has to do with national security…read on. National security has many sources in addition to military capabilities. Among the additional sources are diplomacy, education, intellectual property, culture and economic strength. Last year all of Washington was engaged in the health care debate but not one elected or appointed officer or pundit pointed out that fully one third of the American people were clinically obese. Obesity leads to diabetes, heart disease, and respiratory ailments, some forms of cancer and skeletal infirmities, all of which contribute to the 17% plus of GDP we spend on health care in America. Some analysts have said that eliminating obesity in America would reduce health care expenses by 3-4% of GDP, a bigger reduction than all the elements of the legislation that ultimately passed Congress. Yet no one said a word about obesity.
Obviously, obesity affects national security because its cost weakens us economically. Devoting 3-4% of GDP to obesity related health care costs takes money away from education, infrastructure, and research initiatives that strengthen the economy. It also takes money away from military budgets as the Pentagon competes for dollars in a resources scarce environment. This tradeoff is also seen within the defense establishment as the Veteran’s Administration mission is made more complex and expensive as they treat patients who have not only service related injuries and illnesses but also obesity related conditions. Treating our Agent Orange victims is less complicated and more successful if the victim is not obese.
In the future, the American trend toward obesity among our young people will impact the ability to man the All Volunteer Force. More and more potential recruits will be unable to meet minimum height / weight standards for induction, causing the military to lower standards, raise enlistment bonuses, reduce the size of the force or take some other measure in response to the effect obesity will have on recruiting and manning the force.
Major General (Ret.) Dennis Laich is the Director of the PATRIOTS Program (www.ODUPatriots.com) for veterans at Ohio Dominican University.
This entry is cross-posted at Generally Speaking.