The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Editorials

July 5, 2014

George Hancock | Americans must tackle a weighty issue

JOHNSTOWN — The United States is a fat nation. Obesity runs rampant across our landscape. Excessive weight is the culprit behind many diseases. High blood pressure, clogged arteries, diabetes and numerous others ailments are traced to excessive weight.

The appalling point is, we are responsible for this crisis.

Each individual controls his or her personal health destiny.

A sedentary lifestyle coupled with consuming copious calories is foolish. Very few obese issues are genetic.

Folks, we are doing this to ourselves. America’s nutrition and exercise values are out of sync.

Unfortunately, our youngsters are emulating this fat trend. Obesity among toddlers, school-age children and young adults is spiraling. Our nation has made tremendous advances in nutrition and exercise science. Yet, weight-related issues among young people are disturbing.

A group of ex-military leaders has become concerned about obesity in youngsters.

Hundreds of former military brass formed a nonprofit group called Too Fat to Fight.

This group issued a report in May stating “the U.S. Army says more than three-fourths of 17- to 24-year-olds today are not eligible to join the military because they aren’t fit enough or don’t meet other basic requirements such as having a high school diploma or being able to read or write properly.”

Retired Maj. Gen. D. Allen Youngman calls this obesity crisis a national security issue.

Youngman questions whether our military can face world challenges here and abroad while dealing with obesity issues.

The goals of Too Fat to Fight are simple. Its leaders indicate they are not attempting to recruit youngsters. The program is aimed at curtailing a deadly epidemic. The Too Fat to Fight program believes sound educational reforms can alleviate this dire situation.

Two key educational reforms that need to be addressed are healthy eating guidelines and lifelong exercise habits. School-age children and young adults need nutrition guidance. This group also needs to learn the necessity of lifelong exercise.

These two components are the building blocks for healthier adults.

Just how serious is this obesity issue in our region?

Almost a year ago, the Tribune-Democrat detailed the crisis in a July 14 article titled “The fat of the land.”

This article revealed “the number of heavily overweight men jumped by 13.2 percent from 2001 to 2011 – the 10th worst metric result in the nation.”

What can one do to correct this calamity?

One solution is not politically correct. But, this sensible solution saves lives. The Tribune article quoted Dr. Matthew Masiello, chief wellness director at the Windber Research Institute. Masiello, for years, has studied obesity and its personal effects.

Masiello said, “At some point, responsible people have to say, ‘You are too big – you need to lose weight.’ ”

We need more people to repeat these words. Doctors must strongly utter these words to their patients. Parents need to teach their children why obesity often has a tragic ending. And, school district administrators, support staff and teachers must inform students why maintaining a healthy weight is a desirable goal.

Government is the one group not welcome in this discussion. Our country does not need more laws dealing with healthy weight. Do you remember New York’s response to the obesity crisis?

New York City attempted to ban large, sugary drinks.

The legislation was a foolish move.

I normally consume several super-sized drinks after a long, Sunday-morning run.

We need responsible individuals explaining healthy eating and lifelong exercise values. Schools are an excellent choice for this endeavor.

Schools exist for the purpose of teaching students.

Schools teach youngsters from pre-K through high school years. Schools should teach students about nutrition and exercise every day.

Of course, politics needs to be removed from education.

We need to eliminate the federal Department of Education. This agency has held a cabinet position since 1980.

States and local school districts can design their own education programs.

The 2001 No Child Left Behind program fostered obesity’s spread. School districts focused on a narrow subject list aimed at improving test scores. Physical education and nutrition programs promoting healthy lifestyles are neglected.

Healthy eating habits and lifelong exercise builds a strong foundation. The alternative is me running past your grave in the local cemetery.

George A. Hancock of Scalp Level Borough is an occasional contributor to the editorial page.

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