While people talk about US national security, health care and funds for these, they usually ignore impact that food industry and health education have on them. Yet this impact is large: in 2010, 37,5% of all US adults were obese, and thus illegible for military service. In fact, 23,3% of all applicants are disqualified for being obese. And while US military as-is does not have problem with meeting quota due to unemployment, obesity does impair country’s ability to defend itself. Furthermore, it harms economy, and causes whole new set of expenses to fall on taxpayers. And it is predicted that by 2030, 42% of Americans will be obese.
This report shows that Medicare per-capita spending for obese person is 1.429 USD per year above that for non-obese person in 2010 USD, which translates into 1.535 USD in 2012. This translates into per-year expenditure of 56,8 billion USD just for treating obesity. At least 7 billion USD of that figure is spent on drugs. Just military health insurance system (TRICARE) pays 1,1 billion USD each year for obesity-related health care – which is around half of its annual budget.
190,5 billion USD are spent annually to treat diabetes. While obesity is not the sole cause of diabetes, 30,9% of people with diabetes are either overweight or obese, with obese accounting for 21,1% and overweight 9,8%. As such, obesity could account for up to 30 billion USD of the figure.
Obesity is a problem also because obese people (and, as I have shown before, 35,3% of military-aged males are obese) are not fit for military service. Thus a pool of people from whom military can recruit in need is reduced. In fact, US generals have called junk food a “national security threat”.
It isn’t only US problem. In South Europe, traditional Mediterranean diet of fresh fruit, fish, vegetables and olive oil – one of healthiest in the world – is disappearing under the relentless onslaught of fast food. In European countries, between 10 and 30% of adults were obese. Probably unsurprisingly, Scandinavian and South European countries fared better than others so far, but how long will it last?
So, what can be done about it?
One of main reasons fast food is popular is because it is cheap (not so much in Croatia, but still far cheaper than fish for example). That is a problem, since neoliberal policies have created a large number of very poor and small number of very rich people, with middle class slowly but surely disappearing from US social scene.
Second reason is that it is readily avaliable. In Europe, it is just as easy to find fast food restaurant or pizzeria than a bakery or small shop – in United States, it is probably far easier. Worse, it is found in or near the educational institutions, such as schools and faculties, breeding bad eating habits from early age – literally creating children addicts.
Third, parents are twice as likely to buy fast food if it was advertised by a celebrity. In fact, fast food companies pay 1 million USD per celebrity. As such, sport and other (super)stars should be banned from advertising fast food. In fact, more than half of kids try particular fast food after they have seen it being advertised, with fifth doing it because it was advertised by a celebrity. Just as worryingly, fast food companies specifically target children, in order to make fast food addicts out of them.
Fourth, fast food is filled with aditives, most of which are designed to do what their name suggests – create a chemical addiction (not unlike heroine or cocaine) to a certain food.
Fifth, and probably most important, traditional family is being broken down. If both parents are forced to spend entire day working, they do not have time to prepare healthy meals, and as such have to turn to readily-avaliable food: fast food and sweets. Since shaping of basic habits – eating habits, work habits etc. – is done at young age, lack of parental care often results in unhealthy eating habits. In traditional family, grandparents would have taken care of the child; but already-mentioned breakdown of traditional family means that they are often not around to do it, and fast food provides a cheap and easy solution.
Further, many schools have banned carrying food from home – replacing it instead with food that “reaches nutritional standards”. Such food, in most cases, lacks basic nutritients and is outright dangerous (chicken nuggets being an example). Other schools, due to the lack of funding, have to prepare fast food.
What this means for the Western militaries is that their pool of recruits is likely to get even smaller in the future, and funds harder to get by as health care expenses rise. And while US military has so large budget it is literally drowning itself in money, health education is almost nonexistent.
Also, it has been suggested that fast food reduces intelligence, by around 2 points – and even if it does not, US Appleton school has proven that low-fat, low-sugar food based around whole greens, fresh fruits, vegetables and no beef, as well as no baking, improves performance in school because children find it easier to focus. As such, military’s pool of highly qualified recruits is going to get ever lower.
It must be understood that preventing problem is both far cheaper and far more effective than solving it afterwards. Thus, fast food problem cannot be ignored. It does not represent only a social risk – it is a serious security risk for any country, and has to be dealt with accordingly. Unfortunately, fast food companies’ lobbysts have, as did defense industry lobbysts on issue of ineffective weapons, made sure there will be no major changes. These lobbysts have friends in US conservative political scene, according to which Government should only provide for defense. However, that is illogical – Government’s business is to take care of the state, which involves handling all security threats – including fast food industry. And while US are making moves to combat obesity, conservatives are mocking these moves, clearly showing that they do not care about US national security, but only about corporate accounts. Addict has to have a professional help to recover. Kid must be taught how to choose right food – and it must be given a choice.
But it must be done in correct way. For exaple, while Coca-Cola with its high sugary content certainly isn’t good for health, Diet Cola is far worse, replacing mostly natural composition of original Coca-Cola with artificial ingridients.