WASHINGTON - School lunches have been called many things, but a
group of retired military officers is giving them a new label: national
That's not a reference to the mystery meat
served up in the cafeteria line either. The retired officers are saying
that school lunches have helped make the nation's young people so fat
that fewer of them can meet the military's physical fitness standards,
and recruitment is in jeopardy.
A new report being released
Tuesday says more than 9 million young adults, or 27 percent of all
Americans ages 17 to 24, are too overweight to join the military. Now,
the officers are advocating for passage of a wide-ranging nutrition
bill that aims to make the nation's school lunches healthier.
officers' group, Mission: Readiness, was appearing on Capitol Hill on
Tuesday with Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., and Agriculture Secretary Tom
The military group acknowledges that other things keep
young adults out of the armed services, such as a criminal record or
the lack of a high school diploma. But weight problems that have
worsened over the past 15 years are now the leading medical reason that
recruits are rejected.
Although all branches of the military now
meet or exceed recruitment goals, retired Navy Rear Adm. James Barnett
Jr., a member of the officers group, says the obesity trend could
"When over a quarter of young adults are too fat to
fight, we need to take notice," Barnett said. He noted that national
security in the year 2030 is "absolutely dependent" on reversing child
Recruitment isn't the only problem posed by
obesity. According to the report, the government spends tens of
millions of dollars every year to train replacements for service
members discharged because of weight problems.
This isn't the
first time the military has gotten involved in the debate over school
lunches. During World War II, military leaders had the opposite
problem, reporting that many recruits were rejected because of stunted
growth and inadequate nutrition. After the war, military leaders pushed
Congress to establish the national school lunch program so children
would grow up healthier.
The program was established in 1946, "as a measure of national security," according to the original bill language.
the group is urging Congress to eliminate junk food and high-calorie
beverages from schools, put more money into the school lunch program
and develop new strategies that help children develop healthier habits.
school lunch bill, currently awaiting a Senate vote, would establish
healthier options for all foods in schools, including vending machine
items. The legislation would spend $4.5 billion more over 10 years for
The Army is already doing its part to catch
the problem earlier, working with high schoolers and interested
recruits to lose weight before they are eligible for service, says U.S.
Army Recruiting Command's Mark Howell. He added that he had to lose 10
pounds himself before he joined the military.
"This is the future
of our Army we are looking at when we talk about these 17- to
24-year-olds," Howell said. "The sad thing is a lot of them want to
join but can't."
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