“The Weight of the Nation” and National Security

Emphasizes the healthy choices we must make
  • In the USA healthcare costs in 2014 reached $3.0 trillion and accounted for 17.5% of gross domestic product and nearly three quarters of that cost was related to chronic metabolic diseases — the most common are the twin epidemics: obesity and type 2 diabetes.
  • More than two-thirds of the chronic “lifestyle” diseases are diet-related and are preventable.
  • Homeland security thought leaders consider the “weight of the nation” an issue that may disrupt the long-term stability of the American way of life.

Active duty and obesity

Recent statistics show that 2 in 3 adults are considered overweight or obese and childhood obesity and this trend directly relates to diabetes risk. Current estimates are that about one-third of Americans with type 2 diabetes don’t even know they have diabetes and most of those with prediabetes are unaware of their condition (prediabetes puts people at risk of diabetes in the future). This “social trend” has occurred in only one generation and as a result, experts in the field of homeland security believe we are less secure as a nation.

Since 2002, a 61 percent rise in obesity among our active duty military force has driven up obesity-related health care spending and costs to replace unfit military personnel. The Department of Defense Military Health System (MHS), one of the largest care providers in the US, serving approximately 9.2 million beneficiaries, including active-duty personnel, retirees, military spouses, and children estimates the annual cost to the MHS for medical conditions associated with overweight to exceed $1 billion annually.

With the popularization of our Western diet (and the ever-present call to reduce fat) there has been an unintended spike in obesity, type 2 diabetes and a host of other health conditions that have many calling this trend a national security concern.  Obesity rates are now impacting military readiness, military recruiting, and first-responder readiness. Of great concern, obesity is now at the top of the leading cause of military ineligibility among people ages 17 to 24 (other reasons for ineligibility include: a lack of adequate education, criminal history or drug use).

Military ineligibility

The U.S. Department of Defense recently reported that nearly one-third of 17 to 24-year-olds in the United States are now too fat to serve in the military. With the combination of obesity, inadequate education, and drug use, an unbelievable 75% of all potential recruits are ineligible to serve in the military. At a time when American military forces are stretched thin overseas, a growing number of potential recruits are too heavy to enlist and this has signaled an alarm heard clearly by all branches of the military. Obesity is now a homeland security issue according to a paper by the National Bureau of Economic Research “Unfit for Service: The Implications of Rising Obesity for U.S. Military Recruitment.”

Not only is military readiness at risk with a large part of the population unable to serve but the direct and indirect economic impact (nearly half a trillion dollars annually) is immense and depletes needed scarce resources that could otherwise be invested in infrastructure projects, education, and defense. Senator Cory Booker called obesity a leading crisis in America “it is what is killing folks in America; we are dying as a society.” A former US Surgeon General voiced similar concerns that America’s obesity epidemic will dwarf the threat of terrorism, if the nation does not reduce the number of people who are severely overweight.


Following a healthy lifestyle and maintaining an ideal nutrition pattern is not only a personal choice to improve health and longevity; it is now a national concern and challenge that if ignored may impact our nation’s security with far reaching global impact.

Mission: Readiness, Too Fat to Fight (Washington, DC: Mission: Readiness, 2010), accessed at www.missionreadiness.org/2010/too-fat-to-fight/

Dall TM, et al. Cost associated with being overweight and with obesity, high alcohol consumption, and tobacco use within the Military Health System’s TRICARE prime-enrolled population. AJHP. 2007;22:120–139