SOURCE: Council for a Strong America

Mission: Readiness

March 16, 2016 00:01 ET

2016 County Health Rankings Demonstrate Challenges for Public Safety and National Security

WASHINGTON, DC--(Marketwired - March 16, 2016) - Organizations representing 5,000 law enforcement leaders and 600 retired admirals and generals today expressed concerns about public safety and national security in response to the 2016 County Health Rankings, published by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute.

The organizations -- Fight Crime: Invest in Kids and Mission: Readiness -- are concerned about low high school graduation rates, high obesity rates, and the prevalence of drug abuse in many counties across the nation.

  • Low high school graduation rates impact public safety because of the connection between academic failure and involvement in crime -- as evidenced by the fact that seven in 10 state prison inmates do not have high school diplomas.
  • Academic struggles, obesity and drug abuse impact national security because approximately 71 percent of the nation's 17-to-24-year-olds cannot qualify for military service because they are overweight, have a criminal record, or cannot pass the entrance exam, which tests math, literacy and problem solving skills. 

These findings detailed in the Rankings compare counties within each state on more than 30 factors that impact health. Over the past seven years, the rankings have become an important tool for local communities working to build a culture of health.

"Looking at this year's Rankings, many of us in law enforcement see work is needed to reduce drug deaths and violent crime," said Louisville Metropolitan Police Chief Steve Conrad, a national representative of the anti-crime organization Fight Crime: Invest In Kids. "We really want to see high school graduation rates come up. When kids graduate from high school they are far less likely to have substance abuse issues and commit crimes. Stopping these lifestyle choices before they ever get put in motion just makes sense."

"Military readiness depends on having a good pool of recruits available. Too many young adults are unable to enlist because they are overweight and cannot handle the physical rigors of the military," said Major General Anthony Cucolo of Austin, TX, a representative of the national security organization Mission: Readiness. "It is critical that we address this issue and ensure that young Americans who want to serve their country in uniform can do so."


Recent results from studies of state preschool programs, particularly New Jersey, show that high-quality early education programs can be implemented on a large scale by states and that these programs have sustained benefits for children. Those children who attended New Jersey's preschool program for two years were three-quarters of an academic year ahead in math, compared to their peers who did not attend and two-thirds of an academic year ahead in literacy. 

An evaluation of the Arkansas Better Chance program found that children who attended pre-K developed an extra four months worth of vocabulary knowledge, beyond the gains that would be expected as a child naturally ages. Pre-K attendance also resulted in 23 percent more correct answers on a literacy test and improved math scores.

Instilling good eating and exercise habits from an early age can help turn the tide on the obesity epidemic. Good nutrition starts at home, but many children get up to half of their daily calories at school so it just makes sense to ensure they are eating healthy foods there, too. We must maintain the healthy school meal standards that are being implemented in 97 percent of schools across the country.

A healthy weight requires exercise and a proper diet. Unfortunately, seven out of 10 youths nationwide are not getting the 60 minutes of daily physical activity recommended by health experts. And 80 percent of high school seniors do not have physical education (PE) daily. That is why we must increase the quantity and quality of PE in schools.

Drug dependence can be reduced through the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and can increase access of children and youth to critical mental health interventions, reducing later crime and violence. For example, CHIP can help fund evidenced-based, intensive individual and family therapy programs for troubled youth. These interventions work individually with kids to change their behavior, with parents to equip them to better manage their children's behavior and with communities to move kids back into classrooms. 

Fight Crime: Invest in Kids is an anti-crime organization of over 5,000 police chiefs, sheriffs, prosecutors, and violence survivors that takes a hard look at the research about what prevents kids from becoming criminals. Mission: Readiness is the nonpartisan national security organization of over 600 retired admirals and generals that call for smart investments in America's children to ensure our future national security. Both organizations are part of the nonprofit umbrella organization Council for a Strong America.

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