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Military Leaders Take Action Against Childhood Obesity


When nearly one-third of young people are ineligible for the military because they are too overweight, of course America’s military leaders will take notice—and action. Prior reports from Mission: Readiness, a nonpartisan group of more than 500 retired admirals and generals calling for smart investments in America’s children, highlighted Department of Defense data showing that obesity is one of the leading reasons why more than 70 percent of America’s youth are ineligible for military service.

Now, a new report from Mission: Readiness outlines three key strategies for improving both children’s health and our nation’s future military readiness: better active transportation infrastructure and funding for Safe Routes to School programs, ensuring students have physical education at school, and ensuring that schools are meeting or exceeding the nutrition standards set by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Mission: Readiness recently released the new report in Colorado and Minnesota.

“Mission: Readiness tracks policy opportunities in a number of states, and this year we continued our efforts to support active transportation in Colorado and Minnesota,” said Amy Dawson Taggart, national director of Mission: Readiness. “Both states committed funding for active transportation and Safe Routes to School programs during last year's legislative session and had legislation this session to authorize future funding.” 

Recent efforts in Colorado to pass a bill to fund Safe Routes to School grants beyond the 2015-2016 school year failed in a Senate committee. And, as we were finalizing this edition of Inside Track, we’ve learned that the Minnesota Legislature adjourned without passing new transportation funding in that state as well. 

“We were disappointed that the bill recently failed in the Colorado state Senate committee, but we are looking forward to other opportunities to advocate for the program and grants,” Amy said. 

Physical education in school is the second priority for Mission: Readiness, and is a great way to help kids meet their recommended daily hour of physical activity. Their report highlights data from The Colorado Health Foundation’s 2015 Public Health Report Card, which shows that more than half of Colorado’s teens receive no physical education during the school day. Partly because of this, only half of adolescents are getting the daily physical activity they should be. In Minnesota, 40 percent of ninth graders receive no physical education, and less than 25 percent of high school students are able to meet the recommended amount of daily physical activity. 

Finally, the group is putting a focus on ensuring that progress continues to be made updating school nutrition policies to fall in line with USDA’s guidelines. Research suggests that kids consume up to half of their daily calories at school. The two states have also both made great strides in school nutrition. Currently, 100 percent of schools in Colorado and 94 percent of schools in Minnesota are meeting the USDA’s nutrition standards. Nationwide, 95 percent of schools are meeting the standards.

Mission: Readiness recently released reports on school nutrition in Alabama and South Carolina and plans to release additional reports in the coming months.

“The best approach to preventing obesity is a holistic one, entailing proper diet and exercise,” Amy said. “Providing physical education and healthy food at school is a critical part of these efforts.”

Schools play an important role in children’s lives because of how much time is spent there. “We need to make a healthy school environment the norm, and not the exception,” Amy said.

To do that, Amy explained, parents and policymakers have their own roles to play.

“Parents play a central role by teaching their children healthy eating and exercise habits from an early age,” she said, “And policymakers can support good school nutrition and prioritize funding for safer and better biking and walking infrastructure so that more children can have an ‘active commute’ to school and more opportunities for physical activity in their communities.”

These three priorities are just the beginning for Mission: Readiness. The group also recognizes a need to improve access to healthy foods in all neighborhoods, stop marketing junk food to children and encourage children to drink water rather than sugary beverages—especially for those younger than five.

 “Our goal is to support policies that help young people grow up to stay in school, stay fit, and stay out of trouble so that they can succeed at whatever they choose in life, including a career in the military, if that's what they wish,” she said. “By 2025, we want to see all children in America growing up at a healthy weight.”

Amy and Mission: Readiness know it’s going to take a lot of work. But they are prepared and ready for the challenge. As the title of their last report explained, retreat is not an option.

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