With about a quarter of the nation’s youth too fat to fight, the U.S. military wants to keep those who do qualify for service eating better and staying fit.
With an assist from first lady Michelle Obama, fruits and vegetables will get a boost with the U.S. military’s commitment to upgrade diets and nutrition education.
The Military Health System announced that a new obesity and nutrition awareness campaign will feature cooperative efforts with each of the armed services to update menu standards at military dining facilities for the first time in 20 years. Other goals are to evaluate the nutritional environment of military facilities and ensure healthier foods are available in dining facilities, schools, snack bars and vending machines.
Speaking to airmen in Little Rock, Ark., Obama unveiled the campaign with Department of Defense officials Feb. 9.
“The DOD is updating their nutritional standards to include more fresh fruits and vegetables, more whole grains, lean meats, (and) low-fat dairy products with every single meal,” the first lady said in a news release from the Department of Defense.
She said a recent study found that more than one-fourth of 17- to 24-year olds are too overweight to serve. More members of the military are becoming overweight, and the Defense Department reports that it spends up to $1.4 billion per year on health-related problems linked to obesity.
One industry advocate said the first lady’s influence has been tremendous to push improved nutrition standards.
“The very first thing that is mentioned is more fruits and vegetables, so I think this is huge news,” said Lorelei DiSogra, vice president of nutrition and health for United Fresh Produce Association, Washington, D.C.
Cynthia Smith, spokeswoman for the Department of Defense, said the military’s new nutritional campaign will include both U.S. and foreign military facilities.
“We’re still in the process of developing the changes,” Smith said.
The changes may be in place in the next few months, she said.
With a budget of $4.65 billion for food service, the military serves 1.45 million Department of Defense uniformed service members in 1,100 dining facilities supported by the Defense Logistics Agency, Smith said. In addition, there are about 200 dining facilities in Afghanistan that feed about 216,000 people.
DiSogra said the first lady’s work in the Let’s Move! campaign over the past two years to improve nutrition and increase fruit and vegetable access at schools and other institutions is hard to overestimate.
“Schools transforming, restaurants transforming, hotels transforming, and now the statement from the military,” DiSogra said.
“Nobody could have done this without her,” DiSogra said about the first lady. “She is really trying to create change in all the institutions that create change in our society.”