Child malnutrition imperils America's national security
In a typical year, as summer winds down, much of the country is focused on kids going back to school. For children who do not have enough to eat, this return is a welcome one, as it also means a return to a daily, healthy meal at school. However, this year, the usual back-to-school routine will be anything but. As the pandemic continues, so does the food insecurity it has brought about and exacerbated.
Food insecurity and malnutrition have been linked to obesity. Childhood obesity rates have increased in recent years, but the military has worked to prevent malnutrition among youth for decades. In 1945, Major General Lewis Hershey, Director of the Selective Service System, testified to Congress that the military rejected at least 40 percent of recruits during World War II for reasons related to poor nutrition. The following year, Congress established the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) to protect national security by ensuring children had access to nutritious meals. As evidenced by the conditions that led to the creation of NSLP, malnutrition has long threatened national security. Nationwide, 71 percent of youth between the ages of 17 and 24 do not qualify for military service; obesity disqualifies 31 percent of youth from serving, if they so choose.
Ensuring that all children have consistent access to fresh and nutritious food year-round is critical for kids to grow up healthy and prepared for any career they choose. Increasing funding for school meal programs, adapting meals to incorporate available foods while maintaining nutritional standards, and providing additional options for food delivery are all vital in supporting children’s access to healthy food whenever schools are not open. Lawmakers must modernize school meal programs, so that programs can continue to help prepare America’s children for strong futures throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.