by Marion Nestle
Oct 1 2012

Military officers say school junk food and sodas make kids too fat to fight

The politics of obesity in the United States has no lack of irony.

On the one hand, representatives Steve King (R-Iowa) and Tim Huelskamp (R-Kansas) have introduced legislation—the No Hungry Kids Act—to repeal USDA nutrition standards for school meals.

Why would they do this?   Because they are concerned that students, poor things, won’t get enough to eat.

On the other hand, Mission Readiness, a group of retired military officers, has released Still too Fat to Fight, a report arguing that junk foods and sodas in schools are the reasons why so many young American men cannot qualify for military service.

The report says:

  • About 1 in 4 young American adults is now too overweight to join the military.
  • Being overweight or obese is the number one medical reason why young adults cannot enlist.
  • The U.S. Department of Defense alone spends an estimated $1 billion per year for medical care associated with weight-related health problems.

 Why is this happening?

Students in the United States consume almost 400 billion  calories from junk food sold at schools each year. If the calories were converted to candy bars this would equal nearly 2 billion bars and weigh more than the aircraft carrier Midway.

The military, says Mission Readiness, is doing what it can but “it cannot win this fight alone.  The civilian sector needs to do its part.”

Mission Readiness: start talking to Congress!

Food politics does make strange bedfellows.

  • Kate

    The first person I heard make this argument was Anthony Bourdain, as he recounted an argument he had with Ted Nugent on the very topic. “The Nuge” was going on and on and on about the gub’mint (as he is wont to do) and finally Bourdain shut him up by saying something like “Bad food is impacting military readiness!” and that pretty much shut the argument down.

    I wish you hadn’t said that this makes for “strange bedfellows” — I don’t know why you would think the US Military should be anything other than an ally. You can have as many opinions as you like about the US government’s policy on starting land wars in Asia, but you can’t deny that the Military takes very good care of their own (with the exception of behavioral health). I have several Service members in my liberal Democrat family, both active and retired, and I don’t think a single one would disagree that the things we feed to our children approach criminal levels of abuse and neglect. They proudly joined and proudly served because they want to serve their country, and part of that mission is ensuring that the next generation of Americans grows up to be healthy and can contribute to the well-being of this nation, in whatever form that takes.

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  • https://www3.gotomeeting.com/register/262348470 Casey

    This story points out how ridiculous it is that the same politicians supporting legislation to roll back the calorie caps also support deep cuts to food stamps. This will only make the problem of food insecurity, hunger and related obesity worse if kids are trying to get a day’s worth of calories in one meal at school. As a veteran, I’m glad to see Mission: Readiness advocating on behalf of what’s best for our kids and our country.

  • Anthro

    @Kate

    I didn’t read anything like that into the phrase, but I’m not directly involved in the military other than my husband was in the Marines (peacetime).

    My take was that it’s simply surprising (but very welcome) to see the military getting involved at all, as it isn’t a subject they typically speak out about.

    I would, however, question the military’s own policy on food when I read about bases in Iraq that are little cities that provide every type of fast food found here at home. While this may be seen as comforting to troops, I wonder if there is anything to offset the ready availability of so much fast food. Are there educational programs to inform? Are there good alternatives to all the fast food?

  • Karen

    Such an interesting parallel. Early 20th century nutrition policy in Canada (and probably the US) had a lot to do with making sure factory workers and potential soldiers were fed so they would have stregth to work or fight in the war. Seems things are coming around again, with a new twist.

  • http://www.independentsciencenews.org Jonathan Latham

    My understanding is that in pre-1900 Britain it was discovered that the newly urbanised poor were too short to meet UK military requirements. So the govt decided it had to have a nutrition policy.

  • R Andrew Ohge

    “Freedom Is Slavery, War Is Peace, Truth Is Lies”. Winston Smith would see this for what it is. Too bad, so many of “We The People” haven’t caught on yet.

  • http://www.janeannthompson.com Jane

    As a former high school assistant principal, I was given a free cafeteria meal to enjoy after my lunch duty was complete. When I gained five pounds in two weeks from eating cafeteria food, I quickly decided bringing my own meal was worth the money and effort. Additionally, one of our teachers had started allowing her elementary school age daughter to eat the school provided breakfast, when she had begged to join her classmates in doing so. In just a few weeks her daughter had gained five pounds. Though her daughter didn’t want to give up eating with her friends, she was old enough to understand the implications of continuing to eat the breakfast and went back to eating breakfast at home. With a younger child this would have been difficult. Schools provide meals that are unhealthy and lead to weight gain. If we want to seriously battle the cost of health care in this country, then we better start with the youngest citizens and instead of fattening them up like pigs for the slaughter, we should be working on helping them become active and healthfully lean. That means doing away with the current subsidies and providing subsidies for fruits and vegetables so we can have an over abundance of good foods that can spill into the schools, teaching school cafeteria chefs how to cook healthy while providing them with the right ingredients to do so, providing education that is not subsidized by the sugar, dairy and meat industries and taking out all vending machines, except those that provide TRUE healthy choices.

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