By Mark Bishop, Deputy Director
A report came out last month that shows that 75 percent of 17 to 24 year-olds are not eligible to enlist in the armed forces. There are many reasons for this, but one of the most significant is obesity. This made me think that the more things change, the more things stay the same.
Prior to World War II, military and
government leaders became concerned with the health of army recruits:
as a whole, they were malnourished. In order to bring the population
around with efforts needed to mobilize for war, in 1941 President
Franklin Roosevelt convened a White House Nutrition Conference for
As Susan Levine wrote:
Chief among the conference concerns, of course, was the health of army recruits. Food and nutrition in this context were essential elements not only to physical health but to the nation's "virility" and its ability to defend itself. When the Selective Service Commission began drafting young men for service... alarming numbers of boys were found to be physically unfit... Surgeon General Parran warned that "the great preponderance of boys who were rejected for the draft were found to be boys who in earlier school life had poor nutrition." It was clear that these officials believed malnutrition to be a serious threat to the nation's strength on the battlefront.And five years later...
And 63 years later (that's now - December 2009)...
...in June 1946, Congress created the National School Lunch Program "as a measure of national security, to safeguard the health and well-being of the Nation's children and to encourage the domestic consumption of nutritious agricultural commodities and other foods."
According to the latest Pentagon figures, a full 35 percent, or more than one-third, of the roughly 31.2 million Americans aged 17 to 24 are unqualified for military service because of physical and medical issues. And, said Curt Gilroy, the Pentagon’s director of accessions, “the major component of this is obesity. We have an obesity crisis in the country. There’s no question about it.”
Things have changed dramatically in the last 60 years, but what hasn't changed is that school food still plays an important role in addressing the health of our nation's children.
We currently have a 60-year-old system designed to get more calories to a malnourished student population, delivering too many calories to a student population facing record levels of obesity. Just as the National School Lunch Program was established to deliver more calories to malnourished children, it must now be adapted to provide the kind of healthy meals that can help this generation of children develop healthy eating habits for a lifetime.We have a real opportunity to make this change with the reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act next year. Perhaps the armed forces will join the parents, teachers, students and advocates across the country calling for healthy reform in our school food system.