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Health Care / HEALTH CARE

Obesity A National Security Issue, Experts Agree

FILE - In this Sept. 14, 2011 file photo, fresh fries are scooped into containers during lunch at Gardiner High School in Gardiner, Maine. Congress wants to keep pizza and french fries on school lunch lines, fighting back against an Obama administration proposal to make school lunches healthier. The final version of a spending bill released late Monday would unravel school lunch standards the Agriculture Department proposed earlier this year, which included limiting the use of potatoes on the lunch line and delaying limits on sodium and delaying a requirement to boost whole grains. (AP Photo/Pat Wellenbach)

photo of Meghan McCarthy
May 23, 2012

Improving school lunches and nutrition education are a key way to get Americans healthy enough to join the military, and a badly divided Congress might be amenable to cooperating on this one issue, obesity policy experts said said Wednesday.

The nation’s health is “a train wreck that is occurring in front of our eyes", said James Barnett, a retired Navy rear admiral who is now at the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies and on the executive advisory council for Mission:Readiness.

“Obesity and our future military strength are linked,” Barnett said at a National Journal Live event. Three-quarters of Americans of military age are not qualified to join the military, largely because they are too overweight, Barnett said.

 

School food programs are a key way to keep kids healthy, since kids can get half their calories at school every day, Barnett said. He said schools need support -- financial and policy backing -- to provide nutrition education and remove junk food from school vending machines and lunches.

(RELATED: Fruit Vendors Help Kids Eat Better After School, Researchers Report)

“If they are given the resources, the school nutritionists are so excited about these programs,” Barnett said. “We want to make sure we have as much impact as possible…and we can have a big impact there.”

Tracy Fox, the president of Food, Nutrition & Policy Consultants, said First Lady Michelle Obama’s efforts to reduce childhood obesity were a great first step, but more work was needed.

“It’s time now to certainly applaud her efforts and support, but we really need to kind of take it to the next level. The prevention fund that was part of the [Affordable Care Act] is being nipped at and used for other things not related to prevention funding,” Fox said. “We have very significant threats.”

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