Young Americans increasingly too heavy to serve in our Armed Forces

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School Food - Chicken NuggetsAccording to a new report released by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Trust for America s Health, obesity rates remain steady in 44 states and the District of Columbia. The report also found that rates of childhood obesity in those aged two to nineteen have stabilized as well, with rates declining for those in the youngest group. Despite this decline, obesity remains a huge problem in the United States, and not just because of the health implications. A new report released by Mission: Readiness, a group of high-echelon military officers, found that about 7 in 10 Americans ages 17 to 24 are ineligible to serve in the military, and for a quarter of those, the reason is that they are too fat.

And it s not only the potential army recruits that are being impacted by obesity. The report also highlights the fact that there has been a 61 percent increase in obese active-duty members since 2002. The military spends about $1.5 billion each year on obesity-related health issues, as well as on replacing those who are unfit for combat duty.

This group is using these numbers to urge congress not to back down from mandating healthier meals in schools in accordance with the Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act of 2010. The Act is focused on improving child nutrition and allocates funding as well as sets policy regarding child nutrition programs such as the National School Lunch Program, the School Breakfast Program and the Summer Food Service Program, among others.

According to Army Maj. Gen. Don Morrow, While all services have improved fitness standards and nutrition programs, the best time to attack these problems is well before a prospective service members reaches a recruiter s door.

However, as is often the case, there is no simple solution to this complex problem, despite what some advocacy groups say. First lady Michelle Obama has been a forceful proponent of implementing new federal nutrition requirements in schools across the country, but has faced serious setbacks. The new nutrition standards increased the amount of whole grains, low-fat dairy, fruits and vegetables in school meals as well as set limits for levels of sugar, fat, and sodium. Many schools have been unable to uphold the new nutrition requirements because students have stopped purchasing the healthier meals offered some studies (see below) have found a significant increase in school cuisine winding up in the trashcan forcing the schools to drop out of the National School Lunch Program.

The USDA spends about $12 billion each year on the National School Lunch Program. And in some instances, these investments are paying off. A new study released by the Harvard School of Public Health found that vegetable consumption increased by 16 percent and fruit consumption increased by 23 percent among students at low-income schools after the new standards went into effect. And, a report by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation finds that despite early challenges, students may actually be starting to accept these new standards. Although there was initial complaint in the fall of 2012 when the standards were first implemented, many schools say fewer students are now complaining about the new menus.

Yet, 60 percent of fresh vegetables and 40 percent of fresh fruit are still being thrown out by students, according to findings from that same Harvard School of Public Health Study. And about 81 percent of schools report an increase in food being thrown away since the new nutrition standards were implemented two years ago, according to the National School Nutrition Association.

ACSH s Ariel Savransky had this to say: School nutrition and childhood obesity are very complicated issues, with no clear-cut answers. There have clearly been monumental achievements as well as very serious setbacks in terms of introducing new nutrition standards into schools. The answer does not seems to be to back-off completely because school nutrition is extremely important, especially for those students who are eligible for free and reduced-price lunches who may be getting the majority of their nutrition at school. Yet, we need to figure out a way to ensure that all schools are able to adhere to these standards financially as well as to encourage kids to actually consume the healthier meals.

She goes on, Maybe we should start with teaching children about the new nutrition standards and should have a chance to be involved in the school food environment. Perhaps learning about what they re eating and feeling like they have input into what they re being served will make them more excited about the prospect of eating healthy meals at school, because just putting healthier food in schools and expecting children to eat it is not working.