Too Heavy to Fight: How the Obesity Epidemic Is Threatening U.S. National Security

Too Heavy to Fight: How the Obesity Epidemic Is Threatening U.S. National Security

The obesity epidemic has decreased the number of young Americans able to meet the physical conditioning requirements of the U.S. military.

Obesity is no longer just a population health challenge. This nationwide epidemic is now an emerging national security threat.

Almost one-third of American youth are unable to join the military due to being overweight. This poses a major challenge for the U.S. military in its attempt to recruit the next generation of soldiers. Potential enlistees must satisfy a physical evaluation in order to be eligible for service, and the largest reason for disqualification – 31 percent of all new recruits – is obesity.

The largest reason for disqualification – 31 percent of all new recruits – is obesity

While a third of 17-to-24-year-olds are too overweight to qualify for military recruitment, the issue begins much earlier in life. Children as young as two are exhibiting rising obesity rates, which increases with age. 42 percent of teens aged between 16 and 19 are suffering from being overweight. These concerning numbers emphasize the need for preventive measures beginning earlier in life and continuing as our children grow.

 

How is Obesity Really Affecting Our Security?

A recent study conducted by Mission: Readiness titled “Unhealthy and Unprepared” states that American youth with obesity are going to have a serious impact on the military’s effectiveness. As of September 2018, the Army had a recruitment goal of 76,500 soldiers, yet only 70,000 recruits joined by the end of 2018.

It was found that of the 29 percent of young Americans who graduated high school with no criminal record, and no chronic medical conditions, only 17 percent would qualify and be available for active military duty, and 13 percent would qualify and achieve a satisfactory score on the Armed Forces Qualification Test (AFQT).

National security relies on those who are willing to serve to meet the standards of eligibility.

 

Obesity Affecting Recruitment Rates

In 2017, just 11 percent of 16- to 24-year-olds said they would definitely or probably be serving in the military in the next few years. This is a decrease from 13 percent in 2016, further illustrating the challenges of recruiting new personnel. Estimates suggest that the eligible population will stall at 29 percent through 2020.

National security relies on those who are willing to serve to meet the standards of eligibility. Increasing obesity rates, particularly in the southern United States, prevent otherwise eligible young people who are interested in serving from qualifying. 44 percent of military recruits in 2016 were from the South, which also has the highest rate of obesity in the country (32 percent in 2017).

Army recruits who are less active are much more likely to be injured during basic training

 

Is Obesity That Bad?

Based on a study conducted by The Citadel, Army recruits who are less active are much more likely to be injured during basic training. While not all injuries can be blamed on obesity, one study found that there were 72 percent more medical evacuations from Afghanistan and Iraq for stress fractures, serious sprains, and other similar injuries— injuries that are associated with poor fitness and nutrition—than for combat wounds.

Members of the armed forces should be physically fit and healthy to meet the requirements of their hard and demanding jobs. But military recruits are not immune from the obesity epidemic the nation is facing. In 2015, 8 percent of active duty service members were considered overweight based on height and weight, a 73 percent jump since 2011.

Obesity in the military

Check, Please!

Obesity is not cheap. Each year, the Department of Defense spends around $1.5 billion on healthcare related to obesity for active duty and former service members and their families. Muscle and bone injuries among Army soldiers cause over half of all disabilities, resulting in $125 million in spending each year.
To avoid the major harmful impact of obesity on our society and military’s adequacy, preventive measures should be set in place to help solve this epidemic much earlier in the process. Children as young as two are experiencing rising obesity rates. Unfortunately, obesity increases with age. It was found that 18 percent of children ages 6 to 11 have obesity, as do 21 percent of 12- to 19-year-olds.

Children with obesity are much more likely to face other chronic illnesses as they grow, like asthma, fatty liver disease, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease. The increasing prevalence of obesity should be a concern to everyone involved. It further highlights the need to create a lifelong preventive plan that begins very early in life and continues through high school and beyond.

 

Solutions to Halt Obesity

Creating the most effective solution to obesity requires a multifaceted approach that involves the military, policymakers and parents. Policymakers can help prevent obesity by promoting policies that encourage healthy eating and physical activity that can be implemented in schools.

Parents play an integral role in their kids’ eating and activity habits, but schools are where children spend most of their time. School programs are proven to have a major effect in improving their health. Schools can help children develop healthy habits at a young age by serving nutritious meals and ensuring children get adequate exercise. For instance, the MyPlate plan which is introduced by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is a new food guideline that replaces the conventional food guide pyramid with healthier alternatives.

Children consume most of their daily calories while in school and away from their parents, making cafeterias an important outlet to promote healthy eating habits. The Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP), passed in 2010, is a policy that provides child care services and programs financial support from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to serve nutritious meals and snacks to children in school. Children are eligible from infancy through age twelve and may receive up to two meals and one snack a day.

Over 90 percent of schools now serve meals that meet the healthier standards, with fruit and vegetable consumption by participating children increased by 16 and 23 percent, respectively, since the implementation of CACFP.

Motivating children to move and be physically active from a young age can prevent obesity later in life. The Active Early program employed in 20 care centers in Wisconsin ensures children are physically active and moving for 2 hours each day. The program lasted for a year and showed a significant increase in physical activity.

 

Let’s Do It Together

Physical activity and healthy eating habits are crucial parts to ensure that our children grow up healthy, and that those who are wanting to serve are suited to meet the military’s application and eligibility requirements. Adults, like parents and teachers, are influential in a child’s life, and they should teach children healthier eating and exercising habits.

Preventive measures will slow down the epidemic of obesity, increasing the number of eligible recruits and enhancing our national security. These measures are vital keys to eliminating obesity and the negative effects on our society and security. But with obesity rates higher in adults than in children, efforts should be made by individuals, communities, states, and the federal government collectively.

Fahad Alsabhan

Fahad Alsabhan is a lead medical researcher and subject matter expert at HealthChampion, with demonstrated experience in the hospital & healthcare communications industry in the US and the Middle East. His knowledge within the clinical and writing spectrums of medicine allow him to view the healthcare world from multiple angles.
Fahad Alsabhan

3 Ways Technology is Returning Individuals to the Center of Population Health

3 Ways Technology is Returning Individuals to the Center of Population Health

Returning patients to the center of population health — and empowering them with the right tools — can help solve many challenges faced by population health programs.

 

Ever since Greg Stoddart coined the term “population health” in 2002, health organizations, providers and payers have been continuously learning more about its dynamics, the constant challenges that come with it, and how to overcome those challenges.

According to Stoddart, population health focuses on “the health outcomes of a group of individuals, including the distribution of such outcomes within the group.” This includes patterns of disease, treatment results and healthcare outcomes, as well as the policies that link them together.

A Diminished Role for Individuals – Until Now

Population health has been a hot topic among healthcare providers and payers for nearly a decade. But it’s been a non-issue for most consumers.

Nevertheless, the use of population health strategies by providers and payers have real impact on consumer health and healthcare costs.

It also doesn’t matter that individual patients know little about population health. By its very definition, population health was intended to be patient centric. Population health programs are supposed to focus on improving individual patient health, in the context of groups of consumers with similar conditions, environments or challenges.

The simple fact of the matter is that individual consumers have so much to offer population health programs. But this resource has often been overlooked by population health initiatives. Until now.

Technology is giving population health programs the tools to empower individual patients to drive improved population health results. With the increasing number of healthcare apps being added to online app stores every week, healthcare payers and providers now need to adapt to evolving consumer behavior and expectations.

Technology is giving population health programs the tools to empower individual patients to drive improved population health results.
 

It would be a mistake to consider this a challenge for population health programs. Technology-empowered consumers actually offer a golden opportunity or payers and providers.

Patient Participation

The primary challenge for population health has always been the evolving needs of each population demographic. Patients with multi-chronic disorders using high demanding services drive healthcare costs up. But there’s often only so much that providers and payers can do.

It’s now clearly understood that social and economic factors are more important in the rise of chronic illnesses in various populations. In some cases, it’s the low price of unhealthy fast food or less active lifestyle. In others, it’s environmental stressors or lack of awareness about healthier lifestyles.

Unfortunately, health systems have often been the active healthcare providers, while patients are the passive care recipients. Once the patient leaves the clinic or hospital, they too often fall back into their unhealthy environment without any real support for impactful change. Healthcare providers want to help patients change their behavior and improve their health, but they can’t be there to continuously monitor and guide patients.

Now, there’s an app for that. Actually, there are now hundreds of apps available to encourage and support patient participation.

Today’s apps and the more powerful ones emerging give population health programs the tools to provide more continuous support for individual patients. From nutrition apps to self-managed care apps, individual patients can now use readily available technology to make healthier daily life decisions – every moment of every day.

Dirty Data

Another major challenge facing population health programs is inaccurate or dirty data. This is found by providers in their patient’s health record, as well by payers in their member’s claims file. Incomplete or incorrect information in a patient’s personal health records can lead to medical management errors and could negatively affect their healthcare outcomes.

Correcting errors for each patient can be time consuming and costly, as each individual patient’s records may have different inaccuracies or errors. Most hospitals and health organizations already address the issue of dirty or inaccurate data by improving their digital records and training their employees on proper data entry.

But it’s often still not enough.

Once again, technology and increased patient participation offers new opportunities for addressing the challenge of dirty data. Through apps that give consumers direct access to their personal health records (PHR), individual patients can help clean up a lot of the inaccuracies and errors in their own records.

From there, machine learning systems can learn from those consumer-driven app-powered corrections to develop new rules to prevent similar inaccuracies and errors in the future.

Data Privacy Issues

Another challenge for population health programs is gaining permission to utilize a patients’ critical health data to generate impactful recommendations and conclusions.

We know we can use population data to find answers. But many patients are hesitant to allow sharing their personal clinical data between their healthcare provider and insurers for good reason.

They’ve heard about or directly experienced the impact of major security breaches to health systems in recent years. For example, Exellus Blue Cross Blue Shield and Anthem Blue Cross both suffered separate breaches in 2015 that affected more than 10 million and 78 million patient records, respectively.

With nearly all current medical records in the United States now being stored in digital form, it’s much easier to share data. But it also means that there are more ways for data thieves to get that data.

So how do we ensure that patient data is secure and their privacy concerns maintained?

Most health systems with digital records have already woken to the threat of data breaches. Fear of fines, penalties and damage to their brands have forced most payers and providers to improve their security, training and compliance monitoring.

But the truth is that the weakest links are often not the data record storage system themselves, but the different access points to those storage. And as patient access to digital records is now the new rule, these vulnerable access points greatly increase the potential risk for electronic health records.

Again, however, technology and increased patient participation can provide solutions to privacy- and security-based challenges to population health. By providing patients with secure and intuitive apps, consumers will be able to better control how their data is accessed and shared.

This also helps address some of the privacy and security concerns that drive patient reluctance to sharing their PHR data. By giving individuals more control over their health data, population health programs can more easily gain permission directly from individuals in specific populations.

Final Thoughts

Traditionally, patients are only motivated to engage after being diagnosed with a disorder. Healthcare providers need to participate more in the community and activate patients to be more involved with their health and management plans.

To do so effectively, healthcare professionals should provide patients with the right set of information, as well as provide continuous support and an open dialogue. This will allow patients to make a more informed decision about their day-to-day decisions.

Again, there are apps now emerging that allow providers and patients to do this more easily and consistently.

Concurrently, healthcare organizations need to develop a sound and reliable technology infrastructure to make population health work. This technology should be flexible enough to allow intuitive and quick data entry, accessibility, and easy data retrieval. This technology should also be adaptable and evolve in alignment with the population’s shifting needs.

Allowing consumers access and control over their own electronic health records is a crucial part in making population health effective as well.

 

Allowing consumers access and control over their own electronic health records is a crucial part in making population health effective as well.

It simplifies the process of improving public health reporting and surveillance, enhancing the ability to prevent disease, and expanding communications between users and their healthcare providers. This can be achieved by using self-management mobile apps that consumers can obtain from their provider or independently.

The healthcare industry is in dire need for a reliable structure to manage population health and their data. In order to understand healthcare information; claims, clinical and personal health data should be used together rather than separately. In other words, healthcare providers and payers need to work together to take on the challenges faced by population health.

Call to Action

Since its emergence, population health has relied heavily on data and available technology to address the needs of specific population groups. But the individual patient’s participation was often missing, especially when looking at it from the population level.

Returning individual consumers to the center of population health – and empowering them with tools for more ownership of their PHR and health management – can help payers and providers solve many of the challenges facing their population health movement.

We invite you to join HealthChampion in this movement to empower individual patients and create a more people-driven approach to population healthcare.

Fahad Alsabhan

Fahad Alsabhan is a lead medical researcher and subject matter expert at HealthChampion, with demonstrated experience in the hospital & healthcare communications industry in the US and the Middle East. His knowledge within the clinical and writing spectrums of medicine allow him to view the healthcare world from multiple angles.
Fahad Alsabhan

Pin It on Pinterest

/**** LinkedIn Insights Tag ***/