04 March 2010


By Andy Weddington
Friday, 05 March 2010

There was an Andy Griffith Show episode that included a scene where Gomer commented skinny people--referring to Barney--ought not worry. According to Gomer, it was not healthy for the skinny to worry but, on the other hand, it was okay for fat people to worry. After all, fat people are jolly and happy most of the time and worrying once in a while is no big deal or so went the stereotype; at least in Gomer's mind. Never mind Gomer's logic--there was none.

As to Gomer's mental prowess, in another episode Andy cleverly, with sarcasm and a bit of chirpiness, opined to a stranger passing through town, who just had a head-scratching encounter at Wally's filling station with Gomer and his simpleton ways, "He's studying to be a doctor." Andy didn't so much as wink to compromise his little joke. The look on stranger Malcolm Tucker's face was priceless. By the way, Mr. Tucker was fat and worried--about his car in need of repair and missing an important meeting.

A handful of cells and synapses short of full brain power, Gomer never did make it through medical school. Instead, he enlisted in the Marine Corps--arguably a trite more challenging, certainly physically maybe even mentally, than doctor training. And he was dead wrong about his homespun philosophy linking body type and worry. Fat people have plenty to worry about when it comes to health and well-being. And their "worries"--which translate into poor health--impact us all; particularly the skinny. Oh, by the way, there weren't any fat Marines on "Gomer Pyle--U.S.M.C." and there aren't any fat Marines today. And, the only fat people I  remember in Mayberry--hometown of Andy, Barney, Gomer, et.al.--were mayors Pike and Stoner, town drunk Otis, and moonshiner Rafe Hollister. We'll just say Aunt Bee was a plus. There sure weren't any fat kids.

On top of all of our country's other woes, America has a "growing" problem, especially amongst the youth--an insatiable appetite, literally, that is a threat to national security. In short, growing waistlines that are unfit for service on the front lines. To be blunt, more and more young people are fat. It's a big problem--no pun intended.

Recent data from the Center for Disease Control indicates that, of the approximately 31.2 million Americans aged 17-24, those unfit for military service--for one reason or another--amount to nearly 75%. And, of that, 35% are unqualified due to some sort of physical or medical issue. The principle reason--obesity and lack of physical fitness. They are in pathetic shape.

Other data shows that in 1987--of the larger category of 18-34 year olds--roughly 6% or about 1 out of 20 were obese. As you will read momentarily, by 2008 the obese had increased nearly four-fold.

In early November 2009 an article by Noah Shachtman read, in part, as follows:

More than three-quarters of the nation’s 17 to 24 year-olds couldn’t serve in the military, even if they wanted to. They’re too fat, too sickly, too dumb, have too many kids, or have copped to using illegal drugs.

The armed services are willing to grant waivers for some of those conditions - asthma, or a little bit of weed. But the military’s biggest concern is how big and how weak its potential recruits have become.

“The major component of this is obesity,” Curt Gilroy, the Pentagon’s director of accessions, tells Army Times‘ William McMichael. “Kids are just not able to do push-ups… And they can’t do pull-ups. And they can’t run.”

23 percent of 18 to 34 year-olds are now obese, up from just six percent in 1987.

The group of potential enlistees is further slimmed by the “propensity to serve” among American youths, which social scientists say also is declining. According to Gilroy, research shows that about 12 percent of all U.S. military-eligible youth show an interest in military service.

In an article written by William H. McMichael, also in early November 2009, Undersecretary of Defense for Military Personnel Policy, Bill Carr, was noted for pointing out that in order to maintain the All-Volunteer Force, the military has to attract more than 15% of qualified young Americans. When recruiting efforts fall below the requirement the difference is met by using waivers. About 20% of today's youth entering military service require some sort of waiver. About a third for medical issues and two-thirds for conduct.

Where does the foundation for personal health, fitness, and overall wellness begin? This is not a complex math problem or trick question. The answer: At home. Fat, out of shape parents are likely to rear fat, out of shape children.

A big part of the problem is folks are quick to reach for foods and drinks loaded with unhealthy fats, sugars, and starches--even when not hungry--to satiate cravings and appease boredom. Children are especially susceptible to the temptations. Nutrition? What's that? With today's electronic gadgetry occupying much of their time, once commonplace pick-up games of basketball or football in the neighborhood are rare. Rough and tumble sweat time is now played on the screen--while eating with one hand and typing or pulling the trigger on a hand-held game control with the other. Not all but for many the outcome is predictable--fat and out of shape bodies lacking physical strength and stamina.

In the summer of 2009 an article penned by Roni Caryn Rabin offered some interesting data about obesity and the cost of health care. The following was reported: 1) Americans that are obese spend approximately 42% more--more than $1,400 annually--on healthcare than those of normal weight; 2) In 2008 medical spending on obesity-related conditions was estimated at $147 billion a year (and it's increasing); 3) Obesity and with it, diabetes, is a rapidly growing problem in America; 4) Today the average American consumes more than 250 calories per day than twenty years ago.

It is fact that obesity leads to high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke, cancer, diabetes, and more personal accidents. And these are all conditions counter to a ready, military force. Smoking cigarettes and abusing alcohol, illegal and prescription drugs doesn't help physical fitness, either.

Throughout our nation's history, many societal changes for the better first took root in the military. And this matter of general health of the American population is one society-at-large needs to take its cue from the military. We cannot afford from neither a fiscal nor defense posture for the military to adapt to what is, frankly, an ever-growing (forgive the pun) irresponsible, undisciplined populace.

This is a national problem garnering little serious attention. Otherwise we'd not see a four-fold increase in youth obesity in little more than two decades. That needs to change--with change beginning in the home with parents leading the way. And the primary education system teaching the importance of a healthy lifestyle and including progressively challenging physical activity as part of a program to reinforce the relationship between physical (physiological) and mental fitness. Sadly, physical education is not what it used to be. Along with visual and performing arts it's among the first of programs to fall by the wayside to "academic" priorities and  budget cuts.

Funny, and not of the "Ha Ha" flavor, here our country is in chaos over out-of-control healthcare costs and health insurance companies could care less about the health of their enrollees--they make more money if people are fat and sickly. Makes you wonder if, in addition to their aggressive lobbying in Washington, they're heavily invested in the fast food and junk food industries. Maybe.

Beyond a military/national defense issue, the ballooning populace is undeniably contributing to skyrocketing costs of healthcare--reform or no reform--in America. If our country's leadership wants to reform healthcare, they'd best direct some attention to slimming the national waistline. There is no more room for pocketknife holes to "lengthen" the money belt.

We have a serious problem. And we'd better get serious to solve it. One approach for remedy is pretty simple--incentivize. Rewards for those who choose and behave wisely and consequences for irresponsible lifestyle choices and behavior. Will healthcare reform do that? Doubtful. As, at least at present, our government's mentality is to not hold anyone responsible for anything. More biscuits and please pass the gravy.

It's not any more complicated than establishing and reinforcing, over and over and over, good habits. And it starts with individual responsibility and accountability, and passing same along to children. As legendary fitness pioneer Jack LaLanne said, "The only way you get that fat off is to eat less and exercise more."

It's never too late to start. And "hope" is neither a two-count nor four-count exercise. Begin.

Post Script

As for last week's ObamaCare meeting tabbed "Healthcare Summit." I watched--the circus. Mr. Obama seemed annoyed when presented with facts from the proposed Bill(s). Self-adulating, pontificating, orating, and schooling the stupid were more to his liking. In the end, not looking presidential--at all. As an aside, Mr. Obama had a physical recently. Doctors advised he quit smoking. Daughters Malia and Sasha are watching--wonder if they have asked him to quit? Other than a parent, is there a more powerful example than President of the United States? At home he happens to be both but "Dad" first.

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