Childhood Obesity: Code RED For Our Future

The Threat to Our National Security

Yes, it’s that serious. Childhood obesity is a national crisis of epidemic proportions. Mission: Readiness, a group of retired senior military leaders, warned Congress that at least nine million 17- to 24-year-olds in the United States cannot serve in the military. Because they are overweight, they cannot pass basic physical fitness requirements. That’s 27 percent of all young adults. Obesity rates among children and young adults have increased so dramatically that they threaten the overall health of America and the future strength of our military.

Curtis Gilroy from the Office of Defense for Personnel & Readiness warned, “We have an obesity crisis in the country. There’s no question about it. These are the same young people we depend on to serve in times of need and ultimately protect this nation.”

Retired U.S. Army General Johnnie E. Wilson stated, “Child obesity has become so serious in this country that military leaders are viewing this epidemic as a potential threat to our national security.”


The Strategy

When the U.S. military gets involved, the situation is serious. The White House Task Force on Childhood Obesity reports that one in every three children (31.7%) ages 2-19 is overweight or obese. It’s time to break out the heavy artillery to fight childhood obesity.

Hit the enemy hard at the heart of the matter, where lifestyle habits begin – in early childhood. Over the past 30 years, while adult rates of obesity have doubled, childhood obesity rates have tripled. Reinforcing healthy habits in early learning can reverse this threat, according to former NATO Supreme Commander General Wesley Clark. “Seventy-five percent of young Americans are unable to serve in the military. Support for high-quality early education will help ensure that more young people are on track for successful careers, including military service.”


Bring Out the Big Guns

Educators are taking advantage of valuable resources to win this battle:

  • The Let’s Move! Campaign initiated by First Lady Michelle Obama is a comprehensive initiative dedicated to solving the problem of obesity within a generation.  Let’s Move! is a national call to action for parents and for all points in the greater community that reach out to children. The plan maximizes federal resources to achieve goals that support the five major pillars of the program:
    1. Creating a healthy start for children
    2. Empowering parents and caregivers
    3. Providing healthy food in schools
    4. Improving access to healthy, affordable foods
    5. Increasing physical activity
  • The Let’s Move Child Care (LMCC) checklist from the Office of Head Start invites child care providers throughout the country to adopt healthy policies and practices on physical activity and nutrition for children. LMCC focuses on physical activity, screen time and meal programs. Providers can sign up by visiting
  • The I am Moving, I am Learning” (IMIL) program from the Office of Head Start is recommended to providers who want to join in the fight against childhood obesity. IMIL promotes increases in the amount of moderate to vigorous physical activity that children engage in throughout the day, improves the quality of guided, structured movement activities and promotes healthy food choices.
  • The Fit 4 You® Classroom Center Kit was developed around Head Start performance standards, NAEYC early learning standards and the USDA’s MyPlate initiative to encourage children and parents to make positive lifestyle changes. A detailed teacher’s guide outlines more than 40 pre-planned, fun activities to increase children’s physical activity and teach healthy meal planning. All materials needed for implementation, including audio CDs from the IMIL program are packaged with the guide. Educators can use Fit 4 You® materials to create a new Fitness and Nutrition learning center in their classroom.


On the Front Line

Educators are encouraged to do more than implement new programs to make a long-term impact on the obesity crisis.  Some suggestions are:

  • Raise awareness about childhood obesity and overall health and fitness.
  • Create a way for children to get moving, have fun and stay fit, and healthy eating habits.
  • Develop a strong sense of accomplishment and build a better self image.
  • Cultivate a collaborative atmosphere that allows children to play and work together.

Because Fit 4 You® activities take this developmental approach, thousands of educators across the country have successfully built age-appropriate, structured fitness and nutrition programs. In addition to meeting Head Start guidelines, they have successfully impacted the eating and exercise habits of children for a lifetime.

“Fit 4 You™ is an all-inclusive way to incorporate fitness and nutrition into the classroom,” notes Elizabeth Moore, Operations Director of the Early Learning Coalition of Marion County in Ocala, Florida. Ms. Moore facilitates interactive training for child care providers to demonstrate the activities in Fit 4 You™ and stress the importance of promoting healthy lifestyles to young children.

“We use the fitness gym included in Fit 4 You™ as a classroom center,” stated Cristine Zawatson,

Principal of the Blackheath Pre-Kindergarten Program, a part of the Long Beach, NY Public School System. “Children enjoy the materials that picture other physically active children. The comprehensive program incorporates literature and ties fitness and nutrition into areas across the curriculum.”



What resources and activities will you use in your classroom to fight childhood obesity?

About Jenne Parks

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