Good, bad news in obesity battle

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Even as the nation’s long-running war on drugs appears to be settling into detente, thanks to decisions by Colorado and Washington to legalize marijuana, the war on obesity rages on.


On that front, there is both good and bad news to report.


First, the good news: After years of steady increases, the rate of childhood obesity in many cities is starting to reverse. The New York Times reported Tuesday the drops have not been steep – just 5 percent in Philadelphia, to cite one example – but it indicates greater public awareness on the perils of obesity, along with programs that have been put in place in schools to make healthy foods more widely available and efforts to make sure children engage in some exercise every day, are starting to have an effect.


“It’s been nothing but bad news for 30 years, so the fact that we have any good news is a big story,” Thomas Farley, New York City’s health commissioner, told the newspaper.


Now, the bad news: More active-duty personnel are being dismissed from the Army because they are overweight and failing fitness tests. According to The Washington Post, the number of soldiers who have been given their walking papers because of an excess girth more than tripled in the 12 years between 1998 and 2010. So far this year, 1,625 soldiers were forced out because they were overweight, 15 times the number in 2007.


There are some caveats attached to this report: During the height of the U.S. engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan, the standards on who could sign up were relaxed. Also, the Pentagon is in budget-cutting mode, trying to reduce the ranks of those on active-duty from 570,000 to 490,000 by 2017, meaning it’s only the leanest who will be left standing in the newly formulated lean-and-mean Army.


Nonetheless, some officials see a flabbier force as “a national security concern.”


It also should be noted that beyond its impact on national security and childhood health, obesity not only affects our bottoms, but also the bottom-line – one of the culprits in rising health care costs has been our expanding waistlines. The less we weigh, the greater our health care savings.


For all the mourning about the apparent demise of the Twinkie last month, perhaps we can look back on it as an unheralded victory in our obesity fight.


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