Inactivity (not terrorism or global warming or any other issue one can muster) is the #1 threat to America's safety, security and welfare.
Here's a newsflash: Regardless of who pays for what, the ever-growing girth of our citizens will eventually destroy whatever healthcare system we put in place. More people in America will die from illnesses resulting from inactivity than have been killed in any war, any act of terrorism, or natural disaster, combined. But don't take my word for it; listen to the Center for Disease Control (CDC).
Obesity has been directly linked to heart disease, certain cancers, diabetes, and a plethora of other preventable medical and mental maladies. The CDC reported that in 2010, almost 36 percent of American adults were obese. Not simply overweight, but obese. And, for the first time in our recorded history, the next generation of Americans is predicted to have life expectancies less than the generations before them.
According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the United States is the fattest nation in the world. And while politicians and pundits fight about which health care program would best serve us, we're missing the point entirely. We need to put required, regular physical fitness classes back into public schools if we are to have any hope of avoiding a preventable national disaster of epic proportions.
Physical education is as important as math, science or English to a student's overall development. When the local, state and federal governments look to cut school budgets, the favorite target has historically been gym class. No longer do millions of children have access to daily, structured physical activity as part of their education. There has been a well-documented push to take sugared beverages out of schools, and provide students with healthier food choices in the cafeterias. However, if we don't get children moving, all of the good nutritional intentions in the world won't matter.
The government has done a grave disservice to its youngest citizens by emphasizing math over movement. Physical activity improves brain function. It builds self-esteem. When done properly, it makes students better students. Several years ago, Nike executed a brilliant advertising campaign entitled, "If You Let Me Play." The ads explain that girls who are allowed to play sports are 60 percent less likely to develop breast cancer. Sixty percent less likely. They are less likely to stay in a relationship when their spouse beats them, less likely to get pregnant before they are ready. Children who are physically active are less likely to use drugs, less likely to suffer from depression, and less likely to suffer from a host of diseases.
Lower-income children are at the highest risk for obesity, and have far less access to activity in their schools and communities. Visit South Central Los Angeles, and look for a safe place to play. Visit a public school anywhere in the U.S. regardless of socio-economic standing, and ask about how often children attend structured gym class. If millions of children nationwide do not receive regular physical education within their schools, the vast majority will not get it anywhere else.
There is no health care plan in existence that can survive our nation's lack of physical focus. If we don't begin to get children physically fit, it won't make a difference. There will simply be too many overweight and obese Americans with a host of preventable illnesses for our nation to handle.
Politicians need to stop battling over what kind of bandage to put on the wound and begin to focus on how the nation can prevent the injuries in the first place.
Sarah O'Leary is an author, distance runner, and movement evangelist. She can be reached via e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.