A new report suggests more than 9 million young adults are too overweight to serve in the military, a growing concern that will threaten national security within 20 years if the trend is not reversed. A veterans military group blames school lunches.
The culprit for growing obesity in 27 percent of all Americans between the ages of 17 and 24 is the school lunch program, according to a report by Mission: Readiness, a retired officers’ group appearing on Capitol Hill on Tuesday, the Associated Press reports.
While the group acknowledges other factors can keep today’s young adults out of the military, such as lack of high school diplomas or serious criminal records, their concern is focused on student obesity, the leading medical reason for rejection of recruits.
In a press release[PDF] issued on Tuesday, the group states it is “a non-profit group of more than 130 retired admirals, generals and other senior military leaders.” It is joining forces with Agriculture Secretary Vilsack and Senator Richard Lugar, (R-IN) in its Capitol Hill appearance.
Although all branches of the military are currently meeting recruitment goals - directly connected to a poor economy which forces more young Americans to enlist - the group sees high obesity rates as a looming problem for future goals.
“While we are meeting our recruitment targets today, those of us who have served in command roles are worried about the trends we see,” states group member Navy Rear Admiral James Barnett, Jr, (RET).
“Our national security in the year 2030 is absolutely dependent on reversing the alarming rates of child obesity. When over a quarter of young adults are too fat to fight, we need to take notice. We urge Congress to take action on child nutrition this year,” he added in the press release.
The military leaders are calling on Congress to introduce a “robust child nutrition” bill that will remove junk food and high-calorie beverages from the nation’s schools.
They are also urging Congress to support an administration proposal for a $10 billion 10-year child nutrition program designed to “improve nutrition standards, upgrade the quality of meals served in schools and enable more children to have access to these programs,” according to the release.
Previously, the military became involved in the school lunch debate back in World War II, when it was faced with the exact opposite problem: rejection of recruits because of inadequate nutrition and stunted growth. After that war, military leaders urged Congress to create a nationwide school lunch program designed to help produce healthier children.
That program, established in 1946, was created “as a measure of national security,” according to language in the original bill.
The Mission: Readiness press release ends by stating: “The group supports policies to help young children get the right start so they are prepared to succeed in life.”