Report | October 8, 2019

Unhealthy and Unprepared in Illinois

National security depends on promoting healthy lifestyles from an early age

Obesity has long threatened our nation’s health. As the epidemic grows, obesity is also posing a threat to our nation’s security. In the United States, 71 percent of young people between the ages of 17 and 24 do not qualify for military service, and obesity disqualifies 31 percent of youth from serving if they so choose. In Illinois, the ineligibility rate is 70 percent.

In 2018, the Army fell short of its recruiting goal for the first time since 2005, and these recruiting challenges will continue unless measures are taken to encourage a healthy lifestyle beginning at a young age.

While nearly one-third of 17-to-24-year olds are too overweight to qualify for military service, the problem starts much earlier. Children as young as two are experiencing rising obesity rates, which increase with age. In Illinois, the rate of obesity for 10- to 17-year-olds was 16 percent in 2017. These alarming numbers demonstrate the need for obesity prevention beginning very early in life and continuing through high school and beyond.

This report discusses how focusing on nutrition and physical activity from a young age can help children grow up to be healthy and prepared for any career that they choose. In order to strengthen obesity prevention and promote healthy lifestyles from an early age, Illinois policymakers should support an increase in the Early Childhood Block Grant for FY 2021, as well as an increase for infant-toddler home visiting and the Child Care Assistance Program.

Illinois can also promote early childhood obesity prevention by integrating the revisions made to the licensing standards for child care centers into the regulations for child care homes and group child care homes and moving towards collecting obesity data early on. These steps can help weave obesity prevention further into the early childhood system in Illinois.


  1. Illinois*