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North Korea is not Americas biggest security threat — childhood obesity is

I applaud President Trump’s efforts to initiate a peaceful dialog with Kim Jong Un, easing tensions in the Pacific rim. Non-dialogue with the North Korean regime could certainly be considered a risk to our national security.

Still others judge Vladimir Putin, ISIS, Yemeni lawlessness, or cyber hacks on the homeland as the top national security threats we face today. I, however, have a different view. My belief is that childhood obesity is the number one threat to America’s national security.

{mosads}President George Washington first referenced “Peace through Strength” in America during his 1790 State of the Union address, later popularized by President Ronald Reagan in 1980. The idea is that America must defend itself against The global cast of thugs seeking to harm the civilized world preys on those nations that are perceived to be weak and incapable of defending themselves.


Peace through strength not only refers to the mental strength and steel of our national psyche, but to citizens that are healthy, physically strong, and free of disease. Childhood obesity, in my opinion, is public health enemy number one. 

Recent data supports the sickening conclusion that the current generation of children will not survive as long as their parents. Obesity, and all of the associated complication including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, fatty liver, cirrhosis, kidney disease, and cancer will take hold of this next generation, leaving no prisoners. We can lose our country without a single bullet being fired. The fast food drive through window will defeat us.

Take this for example. The bedrock of our security is a strong and well-equipped armed forces. Filling the ranks with new recruits is becoming difficult. Young recruits seeking enlistment are increasingly overweight, unable to fulfill the established weight standards.

Thirty-one percent of current recruits are ineligible for service due to obesity. Larger numbers of obese recruits are accepted today, due to loosening of weight requirements, and later found during rigorous training to harbor undiagnosed medical conditions.

These young people are not just obese. They are dealing with serious chronic illnesses that affect multiple organ systems, leading to a wide range of symptoms, treated with an ever-expanding list of medications. Will drill sergeants be asked to give recruits required five minute breaks to swallow their afternoon pills? Equally troubling, for active duty service members, obesity has risen 61 percent between 2002 and 2011, making them less likely medically ready for deployment.

According to the World Health Organization, obesity has doubled worldwide since 1980. In 2014, 1.9 billion adults were overweight, including 600 million considered to be obese. This represents 39 percent of all adults. Some 42 million children age four and under were overweight or obese. Childhood obesity has tripled, with obesity in teenagers quadrupling from 5 to 20 percent. There are significant racial and ethnic inequalities, with black and Latinos becoming obese faster and earlier, compared to whites or Asians.

Our national security also rests on the intellectual development of our youth. We need to remain competitive in all disciplines of science, engineering, math, and computer sciences, in order to train the next generation of thought leaders. To accomplish this, our children and students need to be healthy. As a practicing physician for the past 30 years, I witness daily the complications of obesity, and see how it strips the very soul from an individual.

Obesity and its complications play havoc on ones performance. Preoccupied with not feeling well, medical appointments and tests, taking medicine, and dealing with their associated side effects, is not a winning strategy for our children and young adults.

The cost of managing obesity will bankrupt America. In 2014, the global cost of obesity was $2 trillion dollars. Obese workers are less productive with greater absenteeism. Obese individuals have higher medical bills and are more expensive to manage. Obese individuals are costing billions in lost wages and under production, file more workers compensation and disability claims. According to the American Diabetes Association, the total annual cost of managing diabetes is approximately $245 billion.

So, what is the solution? It starts at the grassroots level. Parents need to have a greater understanding of nutrition, food choices, and how to cook at home, and the vital role they play in their children’s wellbeing. We need to reinstate a home economics type curriculum in schools to train our students about wellness, meal planning, nutrition, and food.

Physicians need to confront obesity with vigor, documenting it as a problem as soon as it’s identified. Its treatment is not another prescription acting as a band aide, but rather as a problem that needs to be addressed by every practicing physician and political advocate.

Our single-minded goal as a nation must be to have the strongest, healthiest, and most fit children prepared to lead our nation into the future, realizing our national security is safe in their hands. Anything less is simply unacceptable, leaving us all vulnerable.

Dr. Joe Galati is a liver disease expert in Houston, and the president of Liver Specialists of Texas. He is the author of the new book, Eating Yourself Sick-How to Prevent Obesity, Fatty Liver and Diabetes from Killing You and Your Family.