Veterans Day: A Time for Appreciation and Action

By Susan Benigas, ACLM Executive Director

Celebrating Veterans Day, ACLM pays tribute to our courageous heroes while addressing the hidden threat of lifestyle-related chronic diseases that affect our military and our nation. ACLM’s evidence-based lifestyle medicine solutions are positioned to help strengthen national security, improve the health of Americans, and support our veterans.

A mother in a military uniform smiling and holding her daughter

On Veterans Day, the American College of Lifestyle Medicine (ACLM) honors the brave men and women who have served our nation with dedication and sacrifice. We recognize that the freedoms we enjoy as Americans only exist because of our veterans’ incredible courage and commitment to defending our values. With gratitude and humility, we thank you—our veterans—for your service. 

ACLM is fortunate to count many outstanding veterans as members, staff, partners and advocates who, after having defended our country from external threats, are now defending it from one of our greatest internal threats: the pandemic of lifestyle-related chronic disease and the deeply entrenched factors that drive it.

Today 60% or more of all adults have been diagnosed with one chronic disease, and more than 40% have been diagnosed with two or more. Type 2 diabetes can no longer be called “adult-onset” because so many children are now being diagnosed with this degenerative condition that degenerates far more rapidly in young, growing bodies. These same lifestyle-related health issues that have had a long-standing impact on disease and death in the U.S. are now affecting our military across the spectrum of service. This threat spans throughout every stage of the military lifecycle, significantly impacting recruitment, retention, and readiness across all branches of the U.S. Armed Forces. Veteran populations are also disproportionately burdened by these lifestyle-related health concerns. 

An alarming 77 percent of Americans between the ages of 17 and 24 are unqualified physically to enter the armed forces. That is a 6% increase from 2017 and, as a result, every branch of the military is struggling to find recruits. Moreover, basic trainees from states with the poorest level of health are injured more frequently during their service. Another recent study showed that between 2018 and 2021, the prevalence of obesity, prediabetes, and diabetes increased among active service members.  

A panel of experts on military health convened at ACLM’s annual conference last week in Denver shared that this sad state of health constitutes a very real and serious threat to our nation.   

How has this happened? I often say that our fiercest enemy could not have designed a more insidious, destructive force that what we face today. Americans walk into the local grocery store, assuming that everything is FDA-approved and unharmful; yet, the reality is that too much of what fills store shelves is what Michael Pollan refers to as “edible food-like substances” and far from health promoting. Kids, who once spent their daylight hours playing outside, are now sedentary, tied to their electronic devices. While we’re grateful for modern medicine, with ACLM representing conventional medicine clinicians, too much of our healthcare system is devoted solely to disease and disability care, generating immense profits fueled by lifestyle-related chronic disease. From agriculture subsidies that make unhealthful foods cheap and plentiful to the sad reality that 70% of American adults and 90% of all seniors are taking one or more prescription medications, the entire system is designed to “feed the beast,” so to speak.  

A family facing a sunset waving american flags in the air. A child sits on top of his fathers shoulders holding and waving an american flag

Thankfully, there is good news. The American public, clinicians—and select government leaders—are awakening to this unsustainable and untenable reality. They are beginning to understand and embrace the vision that ACLM has been championing since its inception nearly 20 years ago. From the White House spotlighting ACLM’s commitment to educate 100,000 health professionals in lifestyle and food as medicine (now expanded to 200,000) to the military’s ongoing integration of lifestyle medicine into the care it provides active service members and its veterans, our leaders are recognizing that evidence-based lifestyle medicine is, without question, the best medicine.  

Our veterans deserve the health, hope and healing that lifestyle medicine delivers, and our great nation must be the beneficiary of the national security and military preparedness that is only enabled with service members who have been educated, equipped and empowered with lifestyle medicine to achieve optimal health. 

On Veterans Day, let us thank again our brave veterans for their selfless courage and sacrifice and, at the same time, recommit ourselves to ensuring that those in our armed forces, and those who wish to enlist, are healthy in mind, body and spirit. 

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