A soldier on the job usually has to pack around about 100 pounds of body armor and equipment. Packing around an extra 25 or 30 pounds of fat isn’t a good thing. Overweight soldiers and Marines have become a problem for the armed forces and a group of retired military leaders, fearing for their future supply of able-bodied recruits, have launched a campaign against childhood obesity.
To fat to fight
According to a report titled “Retreat is not an Option” released by the group Mission Readiness, there were more medical evacuations from Afghanistan and Iraq to Germany for stress fractures, serious sprains and other similar injuries than for combat wounds. Given a choice, most people would probably pick the former over the latter. But in the Army, if you’re too fat to fight, you put your buddies at risk.
Mission Readiness believes that because about 40 percent of the nation’s current crop of 17 to 24 year-olds are overweight or obese, the nation is at risk as well. They released their report to try and convince Republicans in Congress to end their attempts to roll back healthy eating standards set by the Obama administration for the National School Lunch Program.
Active duty obesity
The armed forces were instrumental in establishing the National School Lunch Program because during World War II about 40 percent of military conscripts showed up suffering from malnutrition. Ironically, the military may be a victim of its own success, as only one in four 17 to-24 year-olds today is eligible for service. Obesity is cited as the main reason.
After the U.S. let itself get mired in both Afghanistan and Iraq at the same time, the military became desperate for warm bodies. Those who would have been previously disqualified, including obese people, were welcomed with open arms. Over the last 15 years, the number of obese people on active duty has more than tripled.
With U.S. involvement in the Middle East winding down, the armed forces have been ordered slim down the ranks—in terms of numbers—from 570,000 to 490,000 by 2017. Unless another war happens tomorrow, the first to go are being discharged due to obesity.
However, the military must still recruit about 190,000 men and women a year to remain viable. In the search for those who are fit enough to pack 100 pounds of gear into combat, the pickings are slim.
School nutrition politics
The school nutrition program up for Congressional reauthorization is a plan to restrict junk food and sugary drinks, improve the quality of menus, expand eligibility for free school meals, and improve nutrition education.
The Obama administration has also requested an additional $1 billion a year to fund school nutrition. The Senate version of the bill, if it ever hits the floor, would allow half that amount. The House has yet to address on the issue. Does anyone really expect it to?