More than 300 retired generals and admirals joined a group called Mission: Readiness to ask Congress to take steps to stem the childhood obesity epidemic by improving nutrition in schools.
The group’s 2010 report, “Too Fat to Fight,” pressed Congress for healthier school lunches, and their efforts didn’t go unrewarded. The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, supported by First Lady Michelle Obama, reformed the school lunch program for the first time in thirty years. New rules requiring more fruits and vegetables, lower-fat milk and less bread and condiments went into effect this fall in schools around the country.
”This is the nanny state personified,” declared Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, who said constituents tell him their kids are starving in school and are being rationed on calories. King wants to repeal the law.
But Mission: Readiness wants Congress to do even more to curb obesity. Last week the group released a follow-up report, “Still Too Fat to Fight,” asking that the government expel junk food from school completely. Schools sell more than 400 billion empty calories a year outside the lunch program, in school stores, snack lines, and vending machines, the report said.
This group of ex-military brass contends overweight kids are a national security issue. They say this is more than a recruitment problem. The United States has the highest rate of overweight and obese men among major countries — three in four men are overweight or obese. The Defense Department spends $1.1 billion a year treating diabetes, heart disease, and other medical problems related to obesity for service members, their families, and veterans.
And problems with staffing the volunteer military go beyond weight, says Richard B. Myers, a retired Air Force general and former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. “When weight problems are combined with other disqualifying factors, like failing to finish high school or being convicted of a serious crime, an estimated 75 percent of Americans age 17 to 24 are not able to join the military,” Myers wrote in an op/ed in Politico.
A recent opinion piece in the Richmond Times-Dispatch agrees with the first lady and Mission: Readiness. Information to back its support includes:
- Three in four young Americans can’t qualify to serve? That’s appalling. We must do more to help kids stay in school and qualify for the military training and personal confidence that service can provide.
- Three studies in the latest New England Journal of Medicine link obesity to sugary sodas. The American Beverage Association insists that the industry already has reduced sales in schools and no single food or drink is responsible for the obesity epidemic.
The op-ed piece concludes with this brilliant observation: “To hear some conservatives, you’d think our God-given rights include the freedom to scarf and guzzle vast quantities of anything and everything without any government interference whatsoever. Does anyone really need more than 16 ounces of a soft drink at a time?”
There can be no dispute that obesity is a problem in this country. But there is plenty of argument as to why that is. At least two states have sought to limit what stores can accept SNAP (food stamps) in an effort to ensure government money is used for nutritional food. In both cases the federal government has stymied those attempts.
Luke Rosiak  of the Washington Times writes: “Americans spend $80 billion each year financing food stamps for the poor, but the country has no idea where or how the money is spent. Food stamps can be spent on goods ranging from candy to steak and are accepted at retailers from gas stations that primarily sell potato chips to fried-chicken restaurants.”
The National Association of Convenience Store Operators alone spends millions of dollars on lobbying yearly. In February, 7-Eleven hired a former aide to House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, to lobby on “issues related to the general application and approval process for qualified establishments serving SNAP-eligible recipients.”
The USDA is notoriously secretive about who receives its money, relying on weak legal reasoning, said Steve Ellis of the watchdog group Taxpayers for Common Sense. “USDA hides behind a specious proprietary data argument: The public doesn’t want to know internal business decisions or information about specific individuals’ finances,” he said. “The USDA sees retailers, junk food manufacturers and the big ag lobby as their customers, rather than the taxpayer.”
So, while some claim school lunches must change to ensure national security, states that seek to steer food stamp recipients away from conveniences stores brimming over with junk food are told they can’t. Where is the sense in that?
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