Putting on the Pounds

According to a new report, approximately 71 percent of millennials aged 17 to 24 — the prime age to enlist in America’s armed forces and fight a foreign war in the Middle East — are non-recruitable, with obesity disqualifying about 31 percent of them.

“Out of all the reasons that we have future soldiers disqualify, the largest – 31% – is obesity,” Maj. Gen. Frank Muth, head of Army Recruiting Command, said last Wednesday.

This is new. In my lifetime. It used to be that overweight teenagers were rare. Not anymore.

I’m certainly not an expert in such matters, although some of the reasons for this erosion in the health and fitness of our nation’s youth seem obvious. Less physical activity. More high-carb junk food. More prepared food and sugar drinks. Fewer home cooked meals. More stress.

As for our armed forces, perhaps we won’t need all that many fit recruits in the future anyway. Perhaps drones, robots,  computers and people sitting at terminals will do most of the fighting. Moreover, if we need more than we can get with a voluntary army, we can always reinstitute the draft.

But that won’t make America fit again. That’s something you don’t hear much about these days. You hear about making America “great,” but apparently you don’t have to be fit and healthy to be great.

The first step, in my experience, is to control what comes into the house. My record in such matters is very spotty at best. Too often highly addictive sugar-laced crap finds its way into the shopping cart, destined for our cupboards or frig. I don’t know how that happens, but I do know that, when I’m serious about my fitness and health, it doesn’t happen.

The second step, physical exercise, comes easier. While it’s important for fitness, it isn’t a substitute for controlling what goes into my mouth. You can’t exercise enough to make up for a shitty diet.

We don’t go to the shopping mall often, but when we do I always see overweight kids and wonder why there are so many. And how it happened. And what they’ll be like in another 20 or 40 years.

Perhaps we should have a campaign to make America great again.

Keys to Happiness

“Happy places are highly correlated with healthy food, walkability and lower rates of obesity.” (What Can We Learn from the World’s Happiest People?)

This helps explain why Boulder, Colorado is such a great place to live. Of all the places we’ve lived, Boulder was far and away the leader in healthy eating, fitness (including the nearly complete lack of obesity), and walkability (we walked just about everywhere and could access hiking trails at the edge of town).

Dan Buettner, in his new book, The Blue Zones of Happiness, identified six areas of influence within your control to positively affect happiness and contentment. Interestingly, Buettner found that where you live is a significant factor. In other words, if you’re not happy, move!

Happy locations include Denmark, Singapore, and Costa Rica. Some of the top places in the U.S. are San Luis Obispo, California; Boulder, Colorado; and Portland, Oregon.

Of course, as we know, social networks are key, too. If you want to be happier, bring happy, caring people into your lives.

I’m Declaring War on Sugar

In the mid-19th century, diabetes and obesity were not problems in America. Today, they represent an epidemic, not only in America but also in other countries that have adopted a Western diet and lifestyle. One in 11 Americans has diabetes. Most of us Americans are overweight (including me). Many are obese.

The situation is not benign. Far from it. People are dying prematurely. People are getting joint replacements at record rates. Most men age 60 and above suffer from heart disease. The percentage of people with high blood pressure is high. A substantial number of people are taking antidepressants and anti-anxiety drugs. Medical costs in the U.S. are the highest in the world on a per capita basis. We’re spending huge amounts of money (an estimated $1 billion a day in the U.S.) to deal with obesity and diabetes. It’s a big problem.

If you’re interested in learning more, there are ample resources and evidence available: books, news articles, magazine stories, research studies, etc. If you want to explore the topic briefly, I recommend this podcast of Gary Taubes.

There’s also ample evidence from observation. You’d have to be blind not to see what’s going on: what we’re eating, what we weigh, what it’s costing us (in both quality of life and money).

Given the size of the problem, I’m surprised we’re not doing more about it. Then again, I’m not surprised. I’m guilty. I love many of the food products that are bad for us.

Periodically, I try to clean up my diet. But I always backslide. So I carry more weight than I should, even though I know better. I hate it when my willpower comes up short. It makes me feel weak. And not in control. I hate it.

I like how I feel when I weigh less. And common sense tells me my joints appreciate it, too. And my heart. And especially my liver and pancreas. Perhaps even my brain.

It’s true I exercise more than most. But being in shape doesn’t compensate for being overweight. Or being addicted to sugar.

Perhaps you’ll have more willpower than me, Vera. Perhaps this won’t be a problem for you. But just in case, I’ve decided to be a better role model.

I have to keep it simple though. If the plan is too complicated, it’s more likely to fail. So here’s my plan: to declare war on sugar.

Clearly, sugar is the main culprit. If I conquer it, victory will be at hand. That’s a simple enough plan for me.

But it’s also hard. It won’t be easy. Sugar is a psycho-active substance. It’s addictive. It’s powerful. It will resist. It will fight back. The question is, Who is stronger? Who has the most willpower?

No one likes to lose a war. So in framing it as a war, I’m hoping to muster a psychological advantage.

I’m also using you, Vera, in my psychological warfare. You will help me with accountability. You don’t know it; you’re too young. But you have a role to play. When I think of you, or see you, you’ll be a strong reminder of what’s at stake.

I want to be able to do things with you. To play. Run. Ride bikes. Hike. Climb. Whatever. And I want to be around to see you grow up. And I don’t want to spend my time in doctor’s offices or hospitals. I don’t want to have surgeries. Or pay a lot of money buying meds. And, most importantly, I want feel good.

Feeling good is important. I think we underestimate its importance.

I feel better light.

So I’m waging a war. Sugar is my enemy. Prepare to die, sugar!