Mission: Readiness, a nonprofit, nonpartisan national security organization of senior retired military leaders calling for smart investments in America's children, recently released a report entitled Still Too Fat to Fight. The report shows the impact of obesity on our country’s national security and calls for strong federal nutrition standards for school snacks, which are contributing to our growing childhood obesity epidemic.

This report serves as a follow-up to a report from 2010 entitled Too Fat to Fight that was released before the passage of the Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act and focused on the importance of serving healthier meals at school. 

As the report states, “The problem of junk food sold in schools is not just a national health issue. It is a national security issue.” According to the report, students in the U.S. consume nearly 400 billion calories from junk food sold at schools each year. If these calories were converted to candy bars, this would equal nearly 2 billion bars and weigh more than the aircraft carrier Midway.

As a result of significant and targeted advertising, our kids are consuming this startling amount of junk food at a time when childhood obesity rates are skyrocketing across the nation. While a number of factors contribute to childhood obesity, junk food – and its related marketing – play a key role. And as a place where children spend the majority of their formative years, school environments should support our children to receive the nutrition they need and deserve. 

So what do childhood obesity and access to junk food in schools have to do with our national security?

Simply put, these children are the future of our country. Yet, their futures – and consequently our country’s future – are being threatened by the obesity epidemic.

As the report clearly points out, obesity rates have more than tripled for children and teens over the past 40 years. Today, about twenty-five percent of young American adults are now too overweight to join the military. Not only is obesity preventing young adults from enlisting, it is causing a crushing blow to military spending. In fact, the U.S. Department of Defense alone spends an estimated $1 billion per year for medical care associated with weight-related health problems.

Applauding the United States Department of Agriculture for its recent efforts in updating school meal nutrition standards, the report calls for the advancement and finalization of standards for competitive foods (e.g. snacks and à  la carte items) and beverages in our schools.

As the report states, “We cannot succeed in teaching our children to eat healthier foods while selling them 400 billion junk food calories in our schools every year.”  And, as a result, we cannot succeed in ensuring national security if we do not improve the nutrition our children receive. 

I encourage you to learn more by reading the full report.