The Latest National Security Threat: Childhood Obesity

In her war on childhood obesity, which culminated today with the president signing the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 into law, First Lady Michelle Obama has done and said some questionable things.

One of the most objectionable was her use of strong arm tactics to “persuade” manufacturers of empty-calorie foods to go on “an advertising diet,” adding that if they didn’t “come along peaceably,” she might use her clout to force the FCC to implement new rules on commercials in children’s programming. Another was peppering the White House Task Force on Childhood Obesity Report to the President with skewed data to make it seem as though the obesity problem in America is worse than it is.

But arguably nothing has been as disingenuous as her comments today, which included the observation that

when more than one in four young people are unqualified for military service because of their weight, childhood obesity isn’t just a public health threat, it’s not just an economic threat, it’s a national security threat as well.

One might well wonder in what way childhood obesity could be construed as a threat to national security. It might be if everyone in the nation were conscripted into military service as a matter of course, but we haven’t had a compulsory draft since 1973. In addition, there are currently 75.2 million children living in the U.S., judging from the best available data. As of September 30, 2010, there were 1.4 million Americans on active duty in the military with another 850,000 on standby in the seven reserve components. Combined, those numbers come to 2.25 million, which means that discounting the “one in four”—or 18.8 million—American children who are obese leaves a pool of 56.4 million able-bodied future volunteers.

The bottom line is that, save for a smattering of concerns that have been voiced over the possibility that the new law will strain school budgets, the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act has enjoyed broad bipartisan support. Attempting to curb childhood obesity is a goal one would be hard-pressed to quibble with regardless of political persuasion. Why the First Lady has seen fit to make idiotic statements like the one she did today to sell this idea is the big mystery.

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Cross-posted at Libertarian Examiner. Follow me on Twitter or join me at Facebook. You can reach me at [email protected] or by posting a comment below.