A group of retired military leaders and the U.S. Agriculture Secretary are expressing concern that poor childhood nutrition is having a negative effect on military fitness.
Representatives of the group Mission: Readiness and Secretary Tom Vilsack say the nation’s obesity epidemic along with a lack of adequate education standards is posing a major threat to national security.
The group is urging Congress to continue implementation of science-based school nutrition standards as it begins its annual agriculture appropriations process.
Retired Army General William Wallace says more than 3/4 of America's 17 to 24 year olds do not meet the basic requirements for military services.
“Many are disqualified because they’re academically unprepared, others because they have a criminal record, but being overweight and or physically unfit is the leading medical reason people can’t serve," said Wallace.
In 2010, Congress passed the Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act with bipartisan support. The legislation required the USDA to update nutrition standards for school meals and snack foods sold in school vending machines and cafeterias.
Wallace says kids consume up to half of their daily calories at school, however parents should be just as vigilant with their child's nutritional health.
He says special interest groups are pressuring Congress' efforts to excuse lunchrooms from meeting nutrition standards members, something Mission: Readiness is ready to oppose.
“Regardless of your politics, you simply can’t argue that a school lunch should be full of salt, sugar and fat," said Wallace. "You always can’t deny that schools should set the example when it comes to eating right and they can only do that by being able to provide healthy foods both in and out of the school lunch line.”
“We are at an important juncture," said retired Major General Tracy Strevey, Jr., MD, former Commander of U.S. Army Health Services Command. "Schools are capable of serving healthier foods and the vast majority are already doing so. Congress should resist efforts to derail continued implementation of science-based nutrition guidelines for school meals and snacks. Together, we can make sure that America’s child obesity crisis does not become a national security crisis.”
Secretary Vilsack said he’s encouraged that more than 90 percent of schools are meeting new USDA school nutrition standards.
The obesity epidemic is already affecting active service members: a 2012 Mission: Readiness report finds that the Coast Guard has the highest proportion of overweight enlistees (57 percent) followed by the Army (16 percent) and Navy (15 percent), and that about twice as many are men.
Among males who had to lose weight to join the military, 36.1 percent had to lose 10 to 19 pounds, and nearly 40 percent had to lose at least 20 pounds. Still, the military is doing better than the civilian population.