Child health as a national security issue: Obesity and behavioral health conditions among military children

Tracey Pérez Koehlmoos*, Amanda Banaag, Cathaleen King Madsen, Terry Adirim

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


To build and maintain an effective, agile force that is ready at a moment’s notice to deploy for national security missions, the US military must recruit approximately 150,000 new personnel annually while adhering to stringent medical standards. Given a target recruitment population of young adults ages 18–24, the health of the nation’s children is critical to US national security. Maintaining a fit population of military dependents is particularly important because this group has a greater propensity to serve than does the broader population of US children. Using TRICARE claims, we examined body mass index and behavioral health diagnoses among adolescents ages 13–18 covered by the Military Health System for fiscal years 2017–18. Prevalence of conduct disorders, which prevent enlistment, was low overall. However, overweight and obesity combined prevalence estimates were more than 30 percent in every census division, and the prevalence of behavioral health disorders ranged from 18.53 percent to 22.90 percent. These prevalence rates are similar to those found in the civilian sector but are high enough to pose barriers to the military’s efforts to meet recruitment goals. Interventions to improve nutrition, fitness, and behavioral health among school-age children may improve fitness to serve and guarantee the future readiness of the armed forces and the security of the nation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1719-1727
Number of pages9
JournalHealth Affairs
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 2020
Externally publishedYes


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