Improving Young Texans' Fitness to Serve

Testimony by Bruce Christensen, DHSc, PA-C

Senate Veteran Affairs and Border Security Committee
Hearing to Review Military Youth Readiness

Texas Academy of Physician Assistants

Feb. 7, 2018

Good morning/afternoon, Chair Campbell and committee members. I am Bruce Christensen, a physician assistant from San Antonio. I am testifying today on behalf of the Texas Academy of Physician Assistants and the Texas Public Health Coalition, which comprises more than 35 major health organizations including the Texas Medical Association. I’m also a veteran and retired U.S. Air Force officer, and the father of an active-duty airman and Navy officer candidate, so I feel I bring a unique perspective to this topic today. I thank you for the opportunity to provide perspective regarding the readiness of Texas’ youth to serve in our military forces in the coming years.

According to a report by the Mission: Readiness group, about 75 percent of America’s 17- to 24-year-olds are ineligible for military service because of obesity, other physical problems, and lack of education. In fact, only two out of 10 young people are fully eligible to join the military without special waivers. As a country with a long history of military leadership, this is simply unacceptable. Fortunately, there are several relatively simple approaches to correct this.

  1. Supporting military readiness for our youth includes ensuring access to physical activity and healthy foods. The lack of these can affect alertness, attention, memory, mental processing, and problem solving, negatively affecting how students perform academically.
  2. Increasing physical activity has a direct impact on citizen-ready military preparedness.  Today students graduate from high school physically unfit to serve. Fewer than three in 10 high school students achieve 60 minutes of physical activity daily, and on average children aged 8 to 18 spend 7.5 hours per day in front of a screen. 
  3. Texas ranks 10th highest in obesity for children aged 10 to 17. A child who is obese between the ages of 10 and 13 has an 80-percent chance of becoming an obese adult.
  4. Tobacco use continues to be the leading cause of preventable death in the United States. In a report published in January 2018 from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, e-cigarette use among youth actually increases the risk of initiating smoking combustible tobacco cigarettes. Ninety-five percent of U.S. smokers begin smoking before they turn 21, and 80 percent begin before the age of 18.

The inadequate level of physical fitness not only prevents military readiness but also imposes equally severe economic impacts on our nation and state:

  • Obesity is one of the largest drivers of preventable chronic disease and health care costs in the United States, costing more than $150 billion per year.
  • In Texas alone, more than 24,500 adults each year die of tobacco-related causes, and consequently, taxpayers lose an estimated $12.2 billion annually due to excess medical expenditures and lost productivity. The Texas Department of State Health Services estimates that raising the tobacco purchase age to 21 could save the state as much as $406 million over five years.

Chair Campbell and senators, I raise these stark statistics with you to illustrate the very important point that we must change this trajectory, and we can. The Texas Academy of Physician Assistants, the Texas Medical Association, and the members of the Texas Public Health Coalition join me in encouraging you to act swiftly and meaningfully to help prepare today’s young people to be tomorrow’s leaders.

I’m happy to answer any questions you may have. Thank you.

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Last Updated On

May 09, 2018