75% of young Americans ages 17-24 are unable to join the military, primarily because they are poorly educated, physically unfit, or involved in crime. That’s an estimated 26 million young adults.
A Message from America’s Retired Generals, Admirals and Civilian Military Leaders:
As retired Generals, Admirals, and other senior leaders of the United States Armed Forces, we know firsthand that national security must be America’s top priority.
Our organization recently released a report citing Department of Defense data indicating that an alarming 75 percent of all young Americans 17 to 24 years of age are unable to join the military because they failed to graduate from high school, have criminal records, or are physically unfit.
Being overweight or obese turns out to be the leading medical reason why applicants fail to qualify for military service. Today, otherwise excellent recruit prospects, some of them with generations of sterling military service in their family history, are being turned away because they are just too overweight.
We have witnessed countless acts of bravery and courage during our time in the Armed Forces. We are deeply proud of the talent and commitment of the young men and women in uniform. Our standards are high because we clearly cannot have people in our command who are not up to the job. Too many lives depend on it.
To reduce America’s obesity rates we must start with the basics. In addition to exercise, we know that maintaining a balanced diet is key to long-term health and fitness. We also know that the childhood years are critical to the formation of sound eating habits. Millions of children buy breakfast, lunch and snacks in school every day. Properly managed, the school environment can be instrumental in fostering healthful eating habits that will last a lifetime.
We are calling on Congress to pass new child nutrition legislation that would (a) get the junk food out of our schools; (b) support increased funding to improve nutritional standards and the quality of meals served in schools; and (c) provide more children access to effective programs that cut obesity.
If we don’t take steps now to build a strong, healthy foundation for our young people, then it won’t just be our military that pays the price – our nation as a whole will suffer also.
Childhood obesity rates have accelerated faster than adult obesity rates. Over the past 30 years, while adult rates of obesity have doubled, childhood obesity rates have tripled.11 The Journal of the American Dietary Association reports that “Almost one-third of American children – nearly 23 million children and teens – are either overweight or obese.”12 Largely because of this epidemic of obesity, today’s children may be the first generation of Americans to live shorter lives than their parents.13 When weight problems are combined with educational deficits, criminal records, and other disqualifiers such as asthma or drug abuse, 75 percent of Americans 17 to 24 years old are unable to join the military for one or more reasons.17 The military will need to have more fit young men and women if it is going to find enough recruits with the excellent qualifications needed for a modern military.
To begin reversing the epidemic of childhood obesity, Congress should:
Get the junk food and high-calorie beverages out of our schools by allowing the Secretary of Agriculture to adopt the Institute of Medicine standards for what can be served or marketed in schools.
Increase funding for the school lunch programs This funding will help deliver healthier, lower-calorie meals to more poor children who are already eligible to receive them and to others from millions of families that purchase the meals. That can help the students control their weight now and – if the meals are more appetizing – reinforce the message that they can successfully adopt healthier life-long habits.
Support the development, testing and deployment of proven public-health interventions that can deliver the education and encouragement children and their parents need to adopt healthier life-long eating and exercise habits.
The United States military stands ready to protect the American people, but if our nation does not help ensure that future generations grow up to be healthy and fit, that will become increasingly difficult. The health of our children and our national security are at risk. America must act decisively.
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