Everyone knows that America has an obesity problem. What’s scariest is how badly it is affecting our youth. For the first time in the modern era, Millennials and Gen Z’s life expectancy is expected to decrease due to obesity and nutrition related illnesses. With the average Millennial weighing about three times the average American in 1970 and one-fifth of current teenagers chalking in as obese, their shortened life expectancy is no surprise. There are many cultural reasons why this horrid trend has manifested but should Americans accept this? How can they fight this and what’s at stake?
Make Fitness a Civic Duty and Goal Again
Unbeknownst to many people, this issue has been the focus of policy circles as early as the 1950s when President Dwight Eisenhower signed Executive Order 10673, which created the President’s Council on Youth Fitness. Despite government and public support, the Council never picked up steam. This was largely due to Ike’s lack of a public relations campaign that inevitably saw some Republican officials try to snuff the program, believing it reeked of Soviet youth camps.
Not until the proactive efforts of President John F. Kennedy did anything tangible come into fruition when he proactively tried to fight America’s Great Battle of the Bulge by challenging our citizens. His belief was that, “the physical fitness of our citizens is a vital prerequisite to America’s realization of its full potential as a nation, and to the opportunity of each individual citizen to make full and fruitful use of his capacities.” His line of thought being: how can a society plagued by the side effects of obesity (i.e. mental lethargy, illness, lack of discipline, lack of self-confidence) truly actualize its duties not just as a military power but as a democratic nation. How can America be exceptional when its people were turning into pear-shaped, near-sighted sloths?
For him, a healthy mind requires a healthy body and a healthy society requires healthy minds. This of course was not a revolutionary concept. It was a core belief of Ancient Greek society. In fact, it was a civic duty! As Georgia Nakou of Greece Is magazine explains:
“The Greeks of the Classical era believed that physical fitness and mental clarity were two sides of the same coin. A good citizen was virtuous in mind and in body; training was a civic duty, rather than a lifestyle choice. Training facilities and professional trainers were provided by the city – for ordinary citizens as well as for champion athletes. The biggest names in philosophy devoted extensive passages of their works to laying out the rules for proper training and healthy eating.”
That was the brilliance of President Kennedy’s efforts in the 1960s. Predicting America’s slovenly future he decided to take action where it would have the most impact: the public school system. After reforming Ike’s commission and doing a notable PR Campaign that challenged America’s (and most hilariously Elected Official’s) physical capabilities, he got to work by supporting the efforts of La Sierra High School in Carmichael, California. A school whose rigorous fitness education system was even more challenging than the U.S. Navy’s today.
In 1962, the founder of the program, Stan LePerotti, stated, “our program develops large groups of boys, instead of individuals. Boys like to be challenged to do hard things, as long as you are fair with them. It’s an aggressive approach to education, based on pride.” As detailed in documentary The Motivation Factor the program had tremendous success in turning boys into men. These students’ physical and academic success was unparalleled. That’s what made JFK so eager to find a way in which all American schools could integrate La Sierra’s program. His goal was to challenge our youth to be better than their predecessors.
Sadly, due to his short tenure, President Kennedy’s dream of instituting such a rigorous educational and physical program never manifested. But isn’t it time Americans revisit Ike’s and JFK’s visionary goals? Imagine a culture that challenged their youth, rather than letting our next generation’s life expectancy decline? Imagine a society of fit, self-confident, attractive adults, rather than the near-sighted, frumpy, anxiety-ridden batch we’re producing today? One wonders what socio-cultural effect this would have on the Nation at large.
Millennials are Chubby and Depressed. Let’s stop this from happening again!
Another depressing trend among those born after 1990 is depression, anxiety and suicide. The Business Insider reports, “Since 2013, millennials have seen a 47% increase in major-depression diagnoses. The overall rate increased from 3 to 4.4% among 18- to 34-year-olds.” The CDC reported a 30% increase in suicides in the United States from 2000 to 2016.” Besides other society ills, like the rise of broken homes, economic malaise and social media, many believe a large part of this is their lack of fitness.
Studies have proven that physical fitness leads to an overall sense of health, well-being and happiness. As the Anxiety and Depression Association of America reports, exercise and fitness is prime, cost-effective way that people can manage stress. In fact, it enhances memory and cognitive functioning!
Public schools have become less competitive and rigorous since the 1990s. In the realm of physical education, this is especially so. A poll conducted by Harvard University found that 7 out of 10 parents believe their school is not providing their children with enough physical education or activity. Reflecting on the “everyone gets a trophy,” helicopter parent culture that has arisen, it is no surprise Millennials and Gen Z have issues with weight and anxiety. Most schools and parents do not challenge them, at least in the way that public schools used to. Many Millennials can probably remember how easy it was to get a note to be exempted from participating in gym class.
Now, imagine an America that has implemented a program like La Sierra where physical fitness is an educational requirement and a civic duty. Where rather than producing anxiety-ridden, insecure mushy folks, we produce fit, confident, happier young adults. Wouldn’t a fit, healthy society be more exceptional? More ready to take on the mounting socio-economic issues we’re facing? Wouldn’t it be great if Americans weren’t known as the world’s fatties-in-chief?
Unlikely to come from the Left, Will those on the Right Carry the Torch?
If current trends on the Left continue, then Third Wave feminism will continue to demonize fat shaming and push for fat acceptance. Even despite the fact that obesity will literally shorten American life expectancy and turn whole generations into depressed, diabetic dependents. Social Justice Warrior’s hearts may be in the right place, in regards to lessening the effects of obesity (i.e. lack of confidence, social criticism) but it will only worsen a problem that is killing Americans. It seems that only someone with the gaul and physique of someone like Tulsi Gabbard might ever return the DNC back to the common sense, visionary principles of JFK.
Given the DNC’s treatment of pragmatic Democrats like Gabbard, and the Millennial base being enthralled by Third Wave Feminism, it seems that pioneering Republicans might be better suited to bring such a revolutionary program to American communities. It may be hard to imagine the GOP being fitness champions. Having been ruled by the floppy, pasty bodies of Mitch McConnell, Rush Limbaugh, Karl Rove, and Lindsay Graham for so long.
However, Republican’s commitment to American exceptionalism, and with Trump MAGA populism attracting more young voters who are hungry for an American Renaissance, it seems the GOP could win quite a few brownie points by carrying out the work of Eisenhower and Kennedy. One wonders if Trump himself would be supportive of such a program given his philosophy and love of “toughness.”
All in all, this ought to be a bipartisan effort as it would help tackle concerns of all Americans. What we need is visionary public officials to market a program like La Sierra, challenge Americans and paint a clear vision of the society we could have if such a revolution was brought to schools, rather than the bleak one we have now.