National Summer Meals Report Event Calls Attention to Pressing Childhood Nutrition Challenge
The report spotlights the national security connection to federal summer meals programs
Maintaining a firm commitment to provide nutritious meals to young people when school is out will not only help keep our kids healthy, but also strengthen national security. And the added threat posed by COVID-19 has made this commitment all the more urgent.
That was the powerful message in a new report, “Bridging the Summer Meals Gap,” released by members of the organization Mission: Readiness during a virtual press event yesterday. Mission: Readiness is an organization comprised of more than 750 retired admirals and generals who strive to bolster national security by ensuring that kids stay in school, stay fit, and stay out of trouble.
Three of those members, Major General (Ret.) Marcia M. Anderson, U.S. Army, Rear Admiral (Ret.) Casey W. Coane, U.S. Navy, and Major General (Ret.) Malcolm Frost, U.S. Army, joined Claire Babineaux-Fontenot, Chief Executive Officer of Feeding America, the nation’s largest hunger-relief organization, to speak to the pressing need for strengthening children’s access to balanced and nutritious meals, even when schools are closed or out-of-session.
Specifically, the new report highlights the crucial importance of funding for school and summer meal programs, adapting meals to incorporate available foods to serve balanced, nutritious meals, and supporting innovation to expand options for meal service to reach more kids. All of these are powerful tools in the fight against childhood obesity and poor nutrition.
That’s a fight that is closely connected to national security, as 71 percent of young adults cannot qualify for military service, with obesity being one of the main disqualifiers.
“Regular access to nutritious food is essential for children’s health and wellness,” said Claire Babineaux-Fontenot, Chief Executive Officer of Feeding America. “Programs like the Summer Food Service Program help children get the healthy meals they need to achieve their potential in whatever path they choose.”
General Anderson underscored Mission: Readiness’ longtime commitment to this issue and highlighted the impact of poor childhood nutrition on national security. “No matter how patriotic or strong their desire to serve, seven in ten young people could not meet the basic qualifications to serve in uniform,” she said, also pointing to rising rates of obesity among our nation’s young people.
“This trend poses a serious threat to the future health and security of the U.S. Armed Forces, and the retired admirals and generals of Mission: Readiness have been sounding this alarm for over a decade now,” Anderson added.
Admiral Coane emphasized the importance of federal programs that can push back against the food insecurity challenge that compromises the health of so many young people. “Programs like the Summer Food Service Program can help address food insecurity and weight gain by providing nutritious meals and physical activity for children throughout the summer,” he said.
“Retired military leaders understand that SFSP can help prevent obesity by providing children from low-income families with healthy food, as well as recreation and education programs, during the summer,” Coane noted.
Finally, General Frost called for reforms that would expand the reach and effectiveness of SFSP, especially in the face of a global pandemic. “We should explore innovative mobile food dissemination sites, assistance in addressing the financial strain on low-income families over the summer, and developing private and community food delivery options,” Frost said.
“These types of innovations and programs are currently filling the nutrition gap left by closed schools during the COVID-19 pandemic. Lessons learned from this response should be applied to future program implementation.”
The speakers also underscored the necessity of increased funding for school and summer meal programs, adapting meals to incorporate available foods while maintaining nutritional standards, and providing additional options for food delivery.
Highlights of the event may be seen below.