WASHINGTON - Too fat to fight? Many American children are so overweight from being fed french fries, pizza and other unhealthy foods in school lunchrooms that they cannot handle the physical rigors of being in the military, a group of retired officers say in a new report.
National security is threatened by the sharp rise in obesity rates for young people over the past 15 years, the group, Mission: Readiness, contends.
Weight problems are now the leading medical reason that recruits are rejected, the group says, and thus jeopardize the military's ability to fill its ranks.
In a report released yesterday, the group says that 9 million young adults, or 27 percent of all Americans ages 17 to 24, are too fat to join the military. The retired officers were on Capitol Hill advocating for passage of a wide-ranging nutrition bill.
Although all branches of the military now meet or exceed recruitment goals, retired Navy Rear Adm. James Barnett Jr., a member of the officers group, says the obesity trend could affect that.
"When over a quarter of young adults are too fat to fight, we need to take notice," Barnett said. He noted that national security in the year 2030 is "absolutely dependent" on reversing child obesity rates.
This isn't the first time the military has gotten involved. During World War II, military leaders said that many recruits were rejected because inadequate nutrition. After the war, leaders pushed Congress to establish the national school lunch program.
Today, the group wants Congress to ban junk food and high-calorie drinks from schools, put more money into the school lunch program and develop new strategies that help children develop healthier habits.