School Lunches Are a Threat to National Security, Retired Officials Say

Moore agreed, adding that initiatives to up the quality of food in vending machines as well as improve the education kids get about what food they choose to eat outside of school are also essential.

"Since 2006, there's been a law that requires schools with federally funded meal plans to also establish a wellness committee to address nutrition and physical activity standards," she said, but these standards are not universally upheld at this time.

Move Over, Mystery Meat

So what do nutrition experts want to see in today's lunch line?

Moore summed up the changes as: "Fry less and boost the fruits, vegetables and whole grains in school meals."

Whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables and less fat, salt, and sugar are all aspects of new guidelines on school-provided food set out by the Institute of Medicine in 2008 and 2009, Glanz said.

If the new guidelines are implemented, as Mission: Readiness is advocating they be, "this will represent a big change in the right direction," Glanz said.

Even without new legislation, schools have begun responding to the new guidelines in light of Michelle Obama's initiative on childhood obesity, said Madeleine Levin, senior policy analyst of school breakfast and lunch programs at the Food Research and Action Center.

"We're seeing a trend that more and more schools are improving their lunch offerings, offering salad bars and getting more fruits and vegetables in," she said. but the bottom line is that "schools will need more resources in order to address new nutrition guidelines."

With the added oomph of a military voice on this issue, Mission: Readiness hopes to help pass that kind of funding, Dawson Taggart said.

This isn't the first time the military has come to the aid of child nutrition. It was military concerns about precisely the opposite issue -- malnourished and underweight recruits -- following World War II that was integral in establishing the National School Lunch Program to begin with.

"Recruiters can help you keep in shape, but if you have weight problems going into military service, it's hard to keep the weight off. That's why we come back to school lunches: Our bodies are being hardwired in our early years of life. If you go into the military with weight issues, keeping it off is like using safety pins on an already split seam."

The military voice represented by Mission: Readiness' retirees will "add to the chorus of voices out there speaking up about this issue," Glanz said. "By raising childhood obesity to level of national security, [this report] could take the issue out of just the health arena."

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