By Melissa Patrick
Special to NKyTribune
A new report from the Department of Defense found that 73 percent of young adults in Kentucky aren’t qualified to serve in the military, mostly because they are overweight. That is the eighth highest ineligibility rate in the nation.
Nearly one-third of all Americans ages 17 to 24 are too overweight for military service.
“Too many young people today have unhealthy eating and exercise habits,” retired U.S. Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Jerry D. Humble of Russellville said in a press release from Mission: Readiness / Military Leaders for Kids. “This problem threatens to diminish our future military strength and put our national security at risk.”
In Kentucky, 33 percent of teens are overweight or obese, and 78 percent don’t get the recommended hour of exercise daily.
This report documents the “staggering impact of obesity on America’s military” and has prompted more than 450 retired admirals and generals, many from Kentucky, to support the reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act, commonly known as the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act, which is set to expire in September.
“As a doctor, I can tell you that we must turn the tide on the obesity epidemic by instilling good eating and exercise habits from an early age,” Gen. Rhonda Cornum, a surgeon and former director of the U.S. Army’s Comprehensive Soldier Fitness program, said in the release. “Good nutrition starts at home, and parents play a central role in combating childhood obesity, but it’s critical to remember that children consume up to half of their daily calories while at school and out of sight of their parents.”
As Congress prepares to reauthorize the program, it is certain that many will push for changes that address “inedible meals, food waste and misspent funds,” Julie Kelly and Jeff Stier report for the Wall Street Journal.
Many of the GOP lawmakers are backed by the School Nutrition Association, which is asking for changes, citing the increase in food waste and decline in student participation in the school-lunch program in the past three years, Lydia Wheeler and Kate Hardiman report for The Hill.
SNA is asking Congress “to revert back to 2010 standards that require only half of all grains offered to be whole-grain rich, leave sodium levels where they are until research proves further reductions benefit children and do away with the requirement that forces kids to take the half cup of fruit and vegetables with every meal, since most students end up throwing them away,” The Hill reports.
Advocates are urging constituents to call their representatives and tell them that the new nutrition standards are working, citing studies that say students are responding positively to the healthier lunches and are eating more fruits and vegetables and are wasting less since before the new nutrition standards were enacted, Chef Ann Cooper writes for U.S. News and World Report.
The military report included the same research support for the new school nutrition standards that Cooper included in her article, but also added a poll released last week by the Pew Charitable Trusts, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the American Heart Association that found 72 percent of parents nationwide favor updated nutritional standards for school meals and school snacks, while 91 percent favor requiring schools to serve fruits or vegetables with every meals.
The report also provided the results from the Kids’ Safe and Healthful Foods Project poll that found 75 percent of Kentucky voters and 76 percent of public school parents support the new federal school nutrition guidelines. And roughly 70 percent support the higher nutrition standards placed on vending machines, snacks and a la carte menus.
Susan Zepeda, president and CEO of the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky, said, “The health and well-being of our next generation is at stake, We must remove the barriers to good health that stand in the way of Kentucky kids being ready to learn in school and prepared for any career they choose.”
Retired Army Maj. Gen. D. Allen Youngman said, “Look, plenty of students don’t like algebra. Does that mean we stop teaching math? Of course not. Change can be hard, but if we want kids to grow up fit and healthy, it’s just plain common sense to serve nutritious meals in schools.”
Youngman added, “More than 30 million children have eaten healthier school meals since 2012. We need to keep that momentum going, because when our children’s health and our national security are at stake, retreat is not an option.”
Melissa Patrick writes for Kentucky Health News, an independent news service of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, based in the School of Journalism and Telecommunications at the University of Kentucky, with support from the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky.