Chuck, I am a weekly reader of “C-Force” and appreciate the power behind your health punch. As we fight terrorists abroad, what do you think is the greatest enemy to the health of Americans? – Sgt. Tyrell S., Afghanistan

This month, my wife, Gena, and I join the hundreds of millions around the country and world commemorating the 10th anniversary of 9/11. We also continue to pray for the families affected by that tragedy and stand firmly behind our service members, who continue to protect our country here and abroad.

Like all Americans, we are so grateful for the work of the U.S. armed forces, the intelligence community, Border Patrol agents and other civil servants – all of whom protect us.

But I must remind my readers that far more Americans die from diseases brought on by poor diet and lack of exercise than are killed by terrorists and criminals combined.

A few years ago, Dr. Richard Carmona, then surgeon general of the United States, reported to Congress that each year, “More than 300,000 Americans … die from illnesses related to overweight and obesity. Obesity contributes to the No. 1 cause of death in our nation: heart disease.”

Obesity even may be a factor in maternal deaths (because of the strain obesity puts on the body) and in fatal car accidents (because obese people are less likely to wear seat belts).

Being overweight is about more than looks; it is about health – mental, emotional and physical. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Americans who are overweight are at greater risk for hypertension, high cholesterol, osteoarthritis, Type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, stroke, gallbladder disease, sleep apnea, respiratory problems, depression and some cancers, such as those of the breast and colon.

Some experts refer to these as “diseases of comfort” and predict they will become the primary cause of premature death among Americans.

According to the World Health Organization and the CDC, childhood and teen obesity in the United States has tripled over the past 30 years. Twenty-five percent of kids are overweight or obese, and most parents don’t even know it. They also report that one-third of adults are obese, with another third being overweight. More than 50 percent of American adults don’t exercise enough to provide them any health benefits. Twenty-five percent of adults are not active at all in their leisure time.

Carmona also reported that the fundamental reason our children are overweight is the same reason adults are: “Too many children are eating too much and moving too little.”

He concluded his report to Congress by saying nutritional habits are learned at a young age: “Our children did not create this problem. Adults did. Adults increased the portion size of children’s meals, developed the games and television that children find spellbinding and chose the sedentary lifestyles that our children emulate. So adults must take the lead in solving this problem.”

It is true that genetics, environment, socio-economic status, metabolism and behavior are contributors to these ailments. But it is equally true that diet and exercise can improve everyone’s odds of doing better. Most Americans are overweight because they eat poorly and don’t exercise. Too many of our foods are super-high in fats, sugars and salt. And compared with other countries, we eat much larger portions.

This is bad news.

The good news is that if eating and obesity exacerbate illnesses and mortality statistics, then they also remain the most preventable causes of American deaths. We can reduce the rates of the 1 in 5 children and 2 in 3 adults who are overweight in our nation. We can save tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of Americans’ lives every year – maybe even yours.

If we determine today to renew our commitment to take better care of ourselves, we also can save loads of money from overeating and reduce our personal and national medical costs.

If not, we will be bound to live by these words, said by Benjamin Franklin: “God heals, and the doctor takes the fee.”

The Scriptures call our bodies the “temples of God’s spirit.” If we want to live at our optimum with energy and longevity, we must return to treating our bodies like temples instead of like trash bins. As Dr. Don Colbert, the author of “The Seven Pillars of Health,” says, “eating bad is not going to keep us out of heaven, but it will get us there a lot quicker!”

Being obese is still the No. 1 threat in America. But if we fight that enemy with the fervor with which our brave armed forces fight terrorists, we, too, can save lives all around us, especially our own. And in so doing, we will live longer and be happier at the same time.

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