In a nation where a quarter of the population eats fast food at least once a day and the average 8 to 18 year old spends 13 to 14 hours a week playing video games, it's no surprise that more than 4.7 million children age 6 to 17 are overweight or obese.

Childhood obesity has more than quadrupled since 1974, and one in five children between the ages of 6 and 19 is overweight. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, only 2 percent of children eat a diet that follows USDA guidelines.

"Since about 1980, the rates of childhood overweight and obesity has grown in epidemic proportions," said Capt. Brenda Bustillos, a registered dietician and the chief of the Nutrition Care Division at Reynolds Army Community Hospital. "When it comes to children, the rate has actually doubled since 1980 and has tripled in adolescents. It's a very serious health concern that we all must address, regardless of whether or not we have children of our own."

So what makes this issue so substantial'

Consider the risks associated with childhood obesity. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, children who are overweight and obese have a higher risk of developing diseases like asthma, sleep apnea, type 2 diabetes, cancer, hypertension, stroke, osteoarthritis and infertility. They also have more risk factors for cardiovascular disease, including high cholesterol and high blood pressure.

"As a population, as Americans, we all have to face a health crisis," Bustillos said. She said there are many health issues that stem from being overweight and obese, and American taxpayers will have to face skyrocketing healthcare in the future.

"We have a population that continues to climb in the amount of obesity and overweight," Bustillos said. "Issues that were once adult onset are no longer adult onset. We're seeing diabetes now in children who are overweight and obese that we didn't see before. It's a huge health concern for all of us as Americans and as taxpayers for what we must face in the future."

Since obese children have a greater chance of being obese adults, the socioeconomic impact will be great. In 1998, the United States spent $78 billion on medical care associated with overweight and obese people. That's nearly $99 billion of today's dollars, and the number continues to climb exponentially.

And childhood obesity's effect on national defense' Obese children more often than not grow up to be obese adults, shrinking the already dwindling group of young adults qualified to enter the military.

While the issue of childhood obesity is beginning to become an issue at the national level, Fort Sill has become a part of the awareness campaign by joining Lawton's Fit Kids Coalition, and Fort Sill's commanding general Maj. Gen. Peter Vangjel issued the CG's Challenge Western Miles challenging members of the Lawton-Fort Sill community to run or walk 100, 300, 600, 1,000 or 1,200 miles.

Community awareness is important, but parents need to know the causes and impact of childhood obesity and what they can do to combat the problem. The Cannoneer will feature three more stories that dive deeper into the growing epidemic of childhood obesity.