Childhood obesity is a national epidemic that plagues both civilian and military families.
According to the report, Too Fat to Fight, 75 percent of all young Americans 17 to 24 years of age are unable to join the military because they failed to graduate from high school, have criminal records or are physically unfit.
This 2011 report also notes that the Army’s Accessions Command, which carries the responsibility for recruiting and the initial training of new Army recruits, estimates “that more than 27 percent of all Americans 17 to 24 years of age—over 9 million young men and women—are too heavy to join the military if they want to do so.”
That’s right, 27 percent of the next generation is unable to qualify for military service because of their physical conditions.
Besides being unable to follow in their parent’s footsteps of volunteering to serve in the military, obese military children are more likely to experience certain health risks such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease and certain types of cancer. An overweight child or teen today is likely to become an obese adult in the future.
Knowing this, DoD recently launched a program called 5210 to encourage military children to eat healthy and be active. The 5210 campaign recommends 4 strategies for military families to engage in a healthy lifestyle. The 5210 campaign breaks down like this:
5: Eat 5 or more servings of fruits and vegetables
2: Limit screen time to 2 or less hours
1: Engage in physical activity for at least 1 hour
0: Avoid sweetened drinks including soda, sports drinks and fruit drinks
When I read these guidelines, I think it’s pretty obvious that 5210 makes sense. If we all engaged in these behaviors, we will all be healthier and more active.
But with school out for the summer and my husband on deployment, when I look closely at my children’s behavior, I have to admit that I struggle to achieve these daily goals. For example, I have one child who prefers fruit and vegetables and won’t eat meat. In contrary, my other child won’t eat any vegetables…unless you count French fries as a vegetable. But she will eat fruit. Does that mean I feed her a lot of fruit and cross my fingers that she gets 5 servings?
Now let’s talk about that screen time recommendation. My daughters love their Disney movies and when I’m working from home, I tend to use the television as a tool for me and a distraction for my children so that I can get my work done. My children definitely watch more than 2 hours of screen time when they are home with me. But if I have them run around the playground for 2 hours every day, does that offset their time watching PBS Kids?
The 5210 campaign is a helpful reminder of things that I already know as a parent. My children need to eat more produce and spend more time outside this summer. I’m trying to see 5210 as a welcomed excuse to hit the pool and go for afternoon bike rides together. As long as I can be strong enough to shut off the television.