Friday, December 17, 2010

Does Childhood Obesity Make America Less Secure?

On December 13th , President Obama signed the Healthy, Hunger Free Act of 2010, a bill aimed at improving school lunch programs and government food assistance programs for families and children by increasing funding by $4.5 billion over the next 10 years. The Obama administration cites support from a group called Operation: Readiness (emphasis mine):
“On behalf of Mission: Readiness and over 100 retired generals and admirals who support child nutrition legislation as a matter of national security, we are very pleased that the nation has taken this important step in addressing the nation’s obesity epidemic. Being overweight or obese is the No. 1 medical reason why young men and women are unable to join the military. Research shows that up to 40 percent of what children consume every day takes place during school hours and that 80 percent of children who were overweight between the ages of 10 to 15 were obese by age 25. The final bill includes provisions that can get junk food out of schools, nourish more kids who need healthful meals and motivate them and their parents to adopt healthful eating and exercise habits. Military concerns about the fitness of American children are not new. When the National School Lunch Act was first passed in 1946, it was seen as a matter of national security. At the time many military leaders recognized that poor nutrition was a significant factor reducing the pool of qualified candidates for service. Our country is facing another serious health crisis. Obesity rates threaten the overall health of America and the future strength of our military. We must act, as we did after World War II, to ensure that our children can one day defend our country, if need be.”

In Mission: Readiness' statement, they discuss a study about childhood obesity and physical eligibility for military service. They present valid data about the problem of childhood obesity in America and how this affects the number of adolescents and young adults who are eligible for military service based upon their weight. In fact, 42.4% of Illinoisans aged 18-24, the age when most enter military service, are overweight or obese. There is a definite problem. There could be a whole host of ways to address the problem of childhood obesity. Mission: Readiness, however, suggests greater governmental intervention including having the Department of Agriculture implement Institute of Medicine standards, increasing funding for school lunch programs, ensuring that all students eligible for free or reduced fee lunches are signed up for the program, and increasing school funding for educational programs aimed at students and parents. All of these suggestions require greater governmental funding and intervention.

The study received funding from The Annie E. Casey Foundation, Birth To Five Policy Alliance, The Grable Foundation, W.K. Kellogg Foundation and The Pew Charitable Trusts and Pre-K Now, a campaign of the Pew Center of the States.

The Annie E. Casey Foundation, one of the funders of this study, has a progressive bent in its mission favoring large government initiatives for health care and employment. They led a consortium of non-profits in a study known as the Assessing the New Federalism which concluded that adequate income and child care can be ensured by larger governmental spending and bureaucracy.

The W.K. Kellogg Foundation is also another funder of this study. Started by W.K Kellogg, the cereal producer, its mission took a progressive turn following his death in 1951 and views America as inherently racist. Therefore, this must be addressed through the many organizations that receive their grants--such as the Tides Foundation, ACORN, La Raza, and the ACLU to name a few. This Foundation changed their framework in 2008 to reflect the following goal:
The new framework also recognizes that the active pursuit of racial equity, the eradication of structural racism, and the rigorous encouragement of civic and philanthropic engagement are essential to creating a social context in which all children can thrive, including the most vulnerable.

The results of the study prepared by Mission: Readiness may be truthful and sobering. However,if this organization receives funding from other organizations that have a progressive agenda, the recommendations and conclusions must be taken as such. How can they been taken as objective if their funding is subjective?

Mission: Readiness claims that childhood obesity is a threat to national security, an assertion echoed by First Lady Michelle Obama:

Mission: Readiness cites that the National School Lunch Act passed in 1946 also mentioned that implementing such a school lunch program is a national security issue. In this era, the problem was a lack of nutrition. During World War II, many recruits were too thin to be accepted into military service, so the Truman administration passed this bill to ensure that students received proper nutrition. Mission: Readiness states that today childhood obesity is a national security threat and a hindrance to eligibility for the military because of obesity. While this may be a problem on an individual level, all branches of the military either meet or exceed their recruitment goals. Can Mission: Readiness truthfully cite a "reduced pool" of recruits? Can the Obama administration make this claim if the military has a sufficient number of troops? Childhood obesity may be an individual and public health issue, can it rightly be called a national security threat?

Crossposted here.

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