It is not often that school nutrition policy collides with military objectives. But it is currently happening as a group of 450 retired admirals and generals affiliated with Mission Readiness, a group that describes itself as a nonpartisan national security organization, is lobbying Congress not to disrupt the implementation of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010.
The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act has come under fire during the past six months as school districts have begun to implement the nutrition standards outlined in the legislation and are encountering difficulties related to the costs and with the acceptance of some of the reformulated products by school children. Members of Congress have proposed changes to the standards, slowing implementation of the standards, or providing waivers to school districts demonstrating that the standards are too onerous from an economic perspective.
The position of the military personnel supporting Mission Readiness is everything must be done to reduce childhood obesity, including the implementation of the new school nutrition standards without any changes. The group argues that childhood obesity creates a variety of obstacles, most notably a decline in individual health and wellness that may have long-term consequences, mostly for the individual but also in the military’s ability to develop and maintain an effective fighting force.
The statistics the group offers to support its argument are stark. For example, obesity rates among active duty personnel rose 61% between 2002 and 2011; 12% of active duty service members are obese; the military spends $1.5 billion annually treating obesity-related health conditions and replacing those discharged because they are unfit; and more than one in four young adults ages 17 to 24 are too heavy to serve in the military.
“We need to protect kids’ health from day one, and we have to do this now,” said Rear Admiral Casey W. Coane, U.S. Navy (retired), a member of Mission Readiness. “The military is doing everything in our power to address obesity among our service members — from nutrition programs that go back to square one to teach people how to eat healthily, to specially-fitted shoes for every Navy recruit in basic training and specially built running tracks to reduce injuries.
“Taxpayers foot the bill for both school nutrition and the military, so it makes no sense to subsidize meals filled with salt, sugar and fat while children are growing up and then pay so much more to treat the resulting health problems for those who serve our nation. How can we expect young people to serve and protect their country — in whatever profession they choose — if we don’t first serve and protect them at school?”
Mission Readiness brings a unique perspective to the discussion of childhood nutrition and the ramifications of childhood obesity. It is a voice among many advocating for improved school nutrition standards.
In 2013, obesity rates exceeded 35% in two states, were at or above 30% in 20 states and were not below 21% in any states, according to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, a group that has been tracking obesity rates in America for the past 10 years. By comparison, during 2012, the rate of adult obesity exceeded 30% in 13 states, while 41 states had rates of at least 25%. Every state was above 20% during 2012.
It has been said many times on this page that obesity is a complex issue that will require many solutions to reduce the rate of national incidence. As groups such as Mission Readiness come forward and outline the consequences of both childhood and adult obesity it is hoped those solutions, which involve both diet and physical activity, will be evaluated and adopted with a sense of practicality and effectiveness.