In 2008, a group of retired four-star generals, admirals and other senior military leaders banded together out of a growing concern that a significant segment of America’s youth are unfit to serve in the armed forces, presenting a serious long-term threat to our national security. Now with over 450 members, Mission Readiness has since proven to be a credible, bipartisan voice on various issues relating to childhood obesity.
Back in 2011, before President Obama signed the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act (HHFKA) into law, I shared here a two-part interview with retired Air Force General Norman Seip, who expressed the group’s strong support for that law’s school meal reforms. But just three years later, the School Nutrition Association (SNA), the nation’s leading organization of school food professionals and a past supporter of the HHFKA, is now working hard to persuade Congress to gut many of the law’s key provisions. Specifically, the SNA is seeking to weaken a requirement that all grain foods served in school meals be “whole grain rich,” that sodium levels be further reduced and that kids are actually served fruits and vegetables instead of being able to pass them by on the lunch line.
Although it never overtly names the SNA, Mission Readiness is now fighting back against this assault on healthier school meals in a report issued last week, “Retreat is Not an Option.” After sharing some alarming statistics about the unfitness of both potential military recruits and a significant portion of those already in the military, Mission Readiness argues that “[w]ith children consuming up to half of their daily calories while at school and out of sight of their parents, schools should be a focal point in the nation’s effort to combat childhood obesity.” To that end, the organization urges that Congress stay the course on healthier school food standards. Its report states:
We understand that some schools need additional support to help meet the updated standards, such as better equipment and more staff training, and that support should be provided. At the same time, moving forward with implementation of the standards for all schools is paramount. Students depend on schools to reinforce efforts by parents and communities to put them on track for healthy and productive lives. Healthy school meals and snacks are a vital part of that effort. When it comes to children’s health and our national security, retreat is not an option.
On a related note, earlier this month the Pew Charitable Trusts’ Kids Safe and Healthful Foods Project released the results of a poll which found that parents of school-aged children also overwhelmingly support the improved school meal standards.
But will the support of parents and retired military leaders be enough to overcome the significant influence of the SNA in Congress as we approach the 2015 Child Nutrition Reauthorization? Unfortunately, supporting healthier school food with training, equipment and funding is a harder road than simply rolling back standards. But the long term health of our kids — and our national security – depends on it.
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