A Growing Problem: Childhood Obesity Could Hamper Military Readiness
By Sean Price

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Childhood obesity has become so widespread in the U.S. that it threatens military readiness, but bills currently moving through the Texas Legislature could help alleviate the problem, according to a pair of state lawmakers. 

"Childhood obesity … is on the rise and it's now the leading reason why young people are unable to serve in the military," state Sen. Donna Campbell, MD (R-New Braunfels) said at a press conference organized by Mission: Readiness, a group devoted to preparing young people for life in military service. 

About 71% of young people would not be able to enlist in the military if they wanted to because of obesity, educational deficits, or records of drug abuse or crime, according to a 2018 study by Mission: Readiness. Senator Campbell, an emergency physician, said that the biggest reason is obesity, with 33% of young adults too overweight to enlist in the military. 

"There's a need to reverse this trend and return to physical fitness in our schools," she said. 

Mission: Readiness is part of the Partnership for a Healthy Texas, a coalition of more than 50 organizations – including the Texas Medical Association – devoted to fighting obesity.  

The partnership has four top priorities in the 2019 Texas Legislature for combatting obesity: improve access to recess, encourage better nutrition, improve training for physical education instructors, and update exercise and nutrition standards in child care centers, according to Tim Schauer, policy liaison for Healthy Living Matters, a Houston organization that also belongs to the Partnership for a Healthy Texas. 

Mr. Schauer said bills to achieve these goals include: 

  • Senate Bill 364 by Sen. Kirk Watson (D-Austin), who also attended the press conference, requires school districts to adopt a formal recess policy. The bill would require districts to spell out how long recess is and whether it can be withheld as a form of punishment. The Department of State Health Services School Health Advisory Committee also would develop model recess policies for school districts to use. 
  • SB 1834 by Sen. Carol Alvarado (D-Houston) gives low-income Texans access to affordable healthy foods through a pilot Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). The study would give the state Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) authority to study local SNAP incentive programs and create a state pilot program to encourage the purchase of fresh fruits and vegetables among SNAP recipients. 
  • House Bill 1, the state's 2020-21 budget, contains a rider that would provide funding to improve training for physical education instructors. 
  • SB 952, also by Senator Watson would require child care facilities to meet the minimum standards under the federal Child and Adult Care Food Program for nutritious meals and the American Academy of Pediatrics' standards for physical activity and screen time. 

TMA supports the three Senate bills and is monitoring the rider to HB 1.

Last Updated On

May 28, 2019

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Sean Price

Reporter

(512) 370-1392

Sean Price is a reporter for Texas Medicine and Texas Medicine Today. He grew up in Fort Worth and graduated from the University of Texas at Austin. He's worked as an award-winning writer and editor for a variety of national magazine, book, and website publishers in New York and Washington. He's also helped produce Texas-based marketing campaigns designed to promote public health. Sean lives in Austin and enjoys hiking, photography, and spending time with his wife and two sons.

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