Retired Admirals and Generals Want Your Spaghetti With Orange Sauce


Greasy school lunches are paving the way for the Taliban conquest of the United States, a group representing more than 100 retired generals and admirals warned today.

The group Mission: Readiness says childhood diets heavy on fries and pizza have made obesity the leading cause of medical disqualifications of recruits. That may not seem so threatening given that the armed services just completed their most successful recruiting year since 1973, but the general staffers have their eye on the big picture. From AP:

In a report released Tuesday, the group says that 9 million young adults, or 27 percent of all Americans ages 17 to 24, are too fat to join the military. The retired officers were on Capitol Hill advocating for passage of a wide-ranging nutrition bill that aims to make the nation's school lunches healthier.

The military group acknowledges that other things keep young adults out of the armed services, such as a criminal record or the lack of a high school diploma.

Although all branches of the military now meet or exceed recruitment goals, retired Navy Rear Adm. James Barnett Jr., a member of the officers group, says the obesity trend could affect that.

"When over a quarter of young adults are too fat to fight, we need to take notice," Barnett said. He noted that national security in the year 2030 is "absolutely dependent" on reversing child obesity rates.

In its report Too Fat to Fight [pdf], Mission: Readiness recommends the following changes to the Child Nutrition Act:

Allow the U.S. Department of Agriculture to adopt new nutrition standards that will get high-calorie, low-nutrition foods out of our schools;

Support the administration's proposal for adequate funding to improve the quality of food available in schools and increase the number of children who have access to quality meals at school;

Deploy proven school-based programs that enlist parents in helping children adopt life-long changes in their eating and exercise habits.

Note that obesity is the leading cause of medical disqualifications. In recent House Armed Services Committee testimony [pdf], Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness Clifford L. Stanley cited a mishmash of reasons prospective warriors fail:

Medical disqualification, with obesity a large contributing factor, removes 35 percent, drug or alcohol abuse removes 18 percent, and another 23 percent do not meet our standards for reasons including criminal misbehavior, low aptitude scores or having more dependents than can reliably be accommodated in their early career. Other factors impacting recruiting efforts include only 75 percent of our young people graduate with a high school diploma; high numbers of youth going to college directly from high school; and the continuing concerns about overseas contingency operations with its associated high operations tempo.

Since this testimony and Mission: Readiness' report mix statistics for the general population with statistics specific to recruits, it's hard to get a handle on the many reasons for rejection, but Too Fat To Fight says 42.5 percent of 18-to-24-year-olds are obese, which would mean about 15 percent of recruits get sent home for being overweight. That's still fewer than are rejected for having criminal records or (if we apply the 25 percent non-graduation rate to recruiting) for not having a high school diploma. That is, high schools are not failing to feed kids properly so much as they are failing to educate them properly.

Which would seem to make school lunches something that shouldn't really concern these high-ranking retirees. But Mission: Readiness has another wrinkle: The original reason school lunch service became standard was to provide the nation with meatier cannon fodder:

Stunted growth from inadequate nutrition and poor health was so common that the young men who made it into the military during World War II were more than an inch and a half shorter, on average, than young American men today. After the war ended, General Lewis Hershey, the military's Selective Service Director, delivered testimony that helped win passage of the National School Lunch Program. The National School Lunch Program, established in 1946, helped improve the health and well-being of our nation by making sure children across America had access to healthful meals at school.

It's characteristic of a public sector mentality that these bemedaled buttinskis think a federal mandate could have created a nation so prosperous that even the poor people are fat. It's even more dubious to believe adjusting the least important meal of the day will do any serious liposuction on kids who can start the day with a Carl's Jr. breakfast burrito, sneak off school grounds for an order of Hot-n-Ready Caesar Wings, and pound an Ono Hawaiian Party Pack with their homework. Back when the supersizing of America was just beginning and the military was usefully engaged in bombing the Serbs so Bill Clinton could get some head in peace, Reason's own Mr. Mxyzptlk explained why caloric police actions like these are not just pointless but un-American:

[Q]uite possibly, we have always been a nation of fat slobs trapped in skinny bodies. The difference is that, now, we can afford to pig out like there's no tomorrow; the whole world is an all-you-can-eat buffet. The line between Manifest Destiny and Wendy's "Biggie" menu (cheerily pitched by multiple-heart-attack survivor Dave Thomas) is perhaps shorter than we think. Like the dog that licks its own balls, we now chow down to excess not necessarily for the flavor, but simply because we can.