The Military Wages War On Obesity
Mission: Readiness group joins fight for healthier school food
By Nanci Hellmich
The obesity epidemic is threatening national security, so schools — which are on the front lines in battling the problem — need to boot out junk food and serve healthier snacks and meals, a group of retired military leaders is announcing today.
About three-quarters of today's young adults, ages 17 to 24, would be unable to join the military if they wanted to because they are either too heavy, didn't graduate from high school, have criminal records or have other health problems, says Mission: Readiness, Military Leaders for Kids, a non-profit group of 130 retired generals, admirals and other senior military leaders. They are advocating for policies that would help young Americans get ready to serve.
At least 9 million 'too fat to fight'
The leading medical reason why so many young people are unqualified to serve: A fourth of adults in this age group — at least 9 million young men and women — are too heavy, according to military entry standards, the group says in its new report, Too Fat to Fight.
"When that many young adults can't fight because of their weight, it affects our national preparedness and national security," says retired rear admiral Jamie Barnett, a member of Mission: Readiness. The group supports a strong reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act, which calls for providing free and reduced-priced school meals for more kids and for serving more nutritious foods. About 31 million children eat lunch at school every day, and 11 million eat breakfast. Kids consume about 30% to 50% of their calories in school.
The military has been concerned about school nutrition for years and was instrumental in persuading Congress to pass the original National School Lunch Act in 1946, Barnett says.
The recession has temporarily reduced the challenges the nation's military recruiters face in meeting their quotas for signing up qualified Americans, the report says.
"We are hitting our recruitment needs, but we know that some of that has to do with the economy, and those of us who have served are concerned about the trends for the future," Barnett says. "Our national security in 2030 is absolutely dependent on reversing the alarming rates of childhood obesity."
A large pool of recruits, he says, is "good for the country overall. It's good for our economy."
Just 'a safety pin'
About a third of children and teens are obese or overweight, the government says. Those kids are at a greater risk of diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and other health problems.
Recruiters work with young people to help them get into shape so they are ready for boot camp, Barnett says. "But given the fact that so many more kids are carrying so many more pounds, asking recruiters to fix the problem is like asking for a safety pin after the seams have burst," he says.
For more information, go to missionreadiness.org.