Obesity is threatening rural American’s ability to serve in the military

Rural Americans have a long history of stepping up to serve our country, but now, COVID-19 and childhood obesity are threatening their ability to serve.

Childhood malnutrition is a threat to national security, according to a new report from Mission: Readiness, a group of 750 retired admirals and generals.

Retired Admiral Jamie Barnett says that the strength of our country depends on the ability to recruit military-age young people.

According to ADM Barnett, “We have to have people who are strong, not only in body but in mind. The military is a very complex system now, we have complex weapon programs, sensor programs. Yes, you have to be able to pick up a rifle, but you have to do a lot more than that.”

The study shows 71 percent of young people cannot serve in the military, with obesity being the single largest health reason. He says that the issue affects rural America worse than urban areas.

“The obesity problem actually affects rural areas more than it does urban areas, and so many of our military people come from rural areas, southern areas like where I live,” Barnett states. “So, we need to pay particular attention to that. It may be harder in those areas to get those programs going, and that’s why we need congressional attention to this, as soon as possible.”

He says military leadership has a long history of advancing nutrition policy: “Actually, admirals and generals got involved in this after World War II; the military went to Congress in 1946 and said, ‘hey, the major reason why we couldn’t accept people for the draft, for WWII, was for malnutrition,’ and that’s where the school lunch program came about and has continued to this day.”

Access to healthy food has become even more difficult during the pandemic. Mission: Readiness is calling on USDA to update the school lunch program to reach more students and address current and future nutrition needs.

“We need to make sure that food is being delivered where it needs to be-- school lunch programs. The USDA and Congress have eased up rules during COVID to make sure people are getting food,” he states. “We need to have those all the time we need to make sure that people are getting the fresh fruits and vegetables, the fresh food that they need.”

He says that the military compete with business and industry to create the best and brightest young people from across the country. A goal made difficult when malnutrition cuts into eligibility.

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