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Healthier start

Posted: February 1, 2011 10:15 a.m.
Updated: February 2, 2011 5:00 a.m.

First Lady Michelle Obama was in Columbia last week to highlight the problem of childhood obesity and the effect of decreased physical activity on military recruitment; the lack of physical fitness is making it more difficult for the Army and other service branches to fill their ranks at a time when the country needs good soldiers. Her visit was coincidental with a conversation this newspaper’s primary editorial writer had with an Army veteran who recently received word that he’ll soon be promoted to E-9, the highest enlisted rank in the service, only 18 years after joining.

This soon-to-be sergeant major said he was amazed at how tech-savvy today’s recruits are, but at the same time dismayed by how many new enlistees are in poor physical condition. This echoes the words of Mrs. Obama, and it spotlights the first major overhaul of the Army’s diet. Soda fountains will be replaced by milk and juice dispensers, and whole-grain bread and pasta will be introduced. Different foods are being color-coded for their nutritional value. All that is in response to a study last year in which Cornell University economists said skyrocketing obesity rates are threatening national security. Shockingly more than a third of military-age women are ineligible to serve because they’re too fat, with 12 percent of men also being ineligible.

Schools can play a major role in upgrading nutrition, but much of this needs to come from the home.  It’s good that more focus is being placed on fitness, and parents can do their kids a favor -- not only in making them eligible for the military if they choose that path, but also in setting them on a good life path -- by stressing fitness.

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