Military Wants To Revamp of School Lunch
A group of retired military officers have asked for the reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act to improve school lunches and other food offerings to schoolchildren in an effort to reverse the trend of childhood obesity which, they say, will ultimately affect national security.
The group, called Mission: Readiness, Military Leaders for Kids, have issued a new report called “Too Fat to Fight”, in which they state that more than 9 million young adults, or 17% of all Americans ages 17 to 24, are too overweight to join the military. They emphasizes that today, obesity is one of several factors that keeps about 75% of young men and women from qualifying to enter the armed services.
Retired Navy Rear Adm James Barnett Jr notes that national security in the year 2030 is “absolutely dependent” on reversing child obesity rates.
Generals John M. Shalikashvili and Henry H. Shelton say on their website, "As Former Chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, it’s clear to us that our military readiness could be put in jeopardy given the fact that nearly 75 percent of young Americans are unable to serve in uniform. We joined Mission: Readiness because we believe that investing in our children through early education is not a Republican issue or Democratic issue. It’s a plain common sense issue critical to our National Security".
Weight problems have worsened over the past 15 years, and are now the leading medical reason that recruits are rejected. Since 1995, the group says, the proportion of recruits who fail their physical exams because they were overweight has risen by nearly 70%. Once admitted to service, the problem doesn’t end. Each year, the military discharges over 1,200 first-term enlistees before their contracts are up because of weight problem, causing the government to spend tens of millions of dollars to train replacements.
Because 31 million children eat lunch at school each day, and 11 million eat breakfast, kids consume about 30 to 50% of their daily calories in a school setting. The group says that one of the first steps toward fighting childhood obesity is to push through the reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act, currently awaiting Senate vote, in an effort to establish healthier options for schools in all foods. The legislation would spend an additional $4.5 billion over the course of the next 10 years for school nutrition programs.
The group also calls on Congress to take “immediate steps to remove junk food, vending machines, and any remaining high-calorie beverages from the schools, (as) these products are major contributors to childhood obesity.” They also encourage school-based programs that enlist parents in helping their children adopt life-long changes in eating and exercise habits.
The military has been instrumental in the past on issues of child nutrition and school lunch. During World War II, 40% of recruits were rejected for stunted growth and inadequate nutrition. In 1946, General Lewis Hershey, the military’s Selective Service Director, and other military leaders convinced Congress to establish the National School Lunch Act, so that children would grow up healthier.
Mission: Readiness will appear today on Capitol Hill with Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to present their report.