America's obesity epidemic will dwarf the threat of terrorism if the nation does not reduce the number of people who are severely overweight, the surgeon general said Wednesday.
"Obesity is the terror within," Richard Carmona said during a lecture at the University of South Carolina. "Unless we do something about it, the magnitude of the dilemma will dwarf 9-11 or any other terrorist attempt."
Obesity rates have tripled over the past 40 years for children and teens, raising their risk of diabetes and other diseases. For the first time, Carmona said, children are being diagnosed with high blood pressure.
"Where will our soldiers and sailors and airmen come from?" he said. "Where will our policemen and firemen come from if the youngsters today are on a trajectory that says they will be obese, laden with cardiovascular disease, increased cancers and a host of other diseases when they reach adulthood?"
Lowering the nation's obesity rate depends on changing behaviors, but too many Americans are health illiterate, meaning they cannot understand medical terms and directions from doctors, Carmona said.
The surgeon general offered few specific solutions but said public policy reforms would not be helpful in curbing obesity, explaining that common-sense health decisions cannot be legislated.