America’s front lines clash with bottom lines on obesity

In the US the obesity epidemic is growing. The Pentagon conciders it is a national security threat, as it finds it harder to source healthy recruits. But for some, making Americans fatter is a profitable business.

The problem is being tackled at the highest level. First Lady Michelle Obama, who is a long-time champion of healthy eating, is now targeting America’s military. The DoD is to change nutritional standards – for the first time in two decades.

The plan is to have more fruits, vegetables and grains on the soldiers’ tables. Mrs. Obama said “America's entire military once again stepping forward to lead by example,” on proper eating habits.

The plan will affect meals served in 1,100 service member dining facilities, as well as vending machines used by the military, retirees and their family members.

The Pentagon’s concern with obesity is easy to understand. Currently one in four people applying for military service in America is ruled unfit due to their waistline problems. This goes hand in hand with the general civilian trend, which has so far made around 75 per cent of Americans overweight.

The military also loses budget money when it has to discharge overweight people. Annually some 1,200 first-term enlistees are terminated from the service due to weight-related health issues before their contracts expire, according to a report released by Mission: Readiness. The nonprofit organization, which aims to alleviate the problem of overweight recruits, says each such case costs the military $50,000 to recruit and train a replacement.

No states currently have an obesity rate of less than 20 per cent. In 1990, no state had an obesity rate of more than 15 per cent. This increase is going to take time to reverse, and the hard work needs to start now, Lt. Gen. Norman Seip, a retired Air Force officer, told ABC News.

The big business of bigness

Obesity may do great harm to the public, but for some companies it is part of how their business works, reports RT’s Liz Wahl.

Those are not only the food industry giants, which stuff their high-fat products with cleverly cooked-up flavors to make people love them. Companies further up the production line, like the agriculture giant Monsanto, are also eager to get their share.

Also cashing in on the fattening of America are pharmaceutical companies. The US spends $147 billion each year treating obesity-related illnesses.

The big bucks use their leverage in the Congress to uphold policies that keep them profitable. Recently it declared pizza a vegetable, which made school doors open to it. Health activist David Rosen calls the system “the obesity industrial complex”. With the military industrial complex’s now opposing that, America’s waistline may now face the pressure to move back to the slim side of the spectrum.