Blog | Event | September 25, 2020

Distinguished Mission: Readiness members convene to highlight new National Report

A member panel discussed a new report about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on military preparedness and childhood obesity during a virtual event

A distinguished panel of Mission: Readiness members convened to highlight the new national report Breaking Point: Child Malnutrition Imperils America’s National Security during a virtual event on September 24. The report underscores how the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated food insecurity and child malnutrition, identifying a grave national security concern for the nation. To discuss the critical points detailed in the report, the panel included Mission: Readiness members Rear Admiral (Ret.) Kathleen Dussault, U.S. Navy, Rear Admiral (Ret.) Jamie Barnett, U.S. Navy, Major General (Ret.) Marcia Anderson, U.S. Army, and Major General (Ret.) Ed Tonini, U.S. Air Force.

According to a survey commissioned by Mission: Readiness, 39 percent of Americans say they or a family member are more likely to enlist in the military now than before the pandemic. However, obesity is seriously impacting the U.S.’s ability to enlist and deploy military service members. “Over the last 11 years, we’ve seen military recruitment reach a breaking point,” Admiral Barnett stated. “There’s a desire for people to serve, and 75 percent of young Americans are interested in the military,” Admiral Dussault added. “However, 71 percent are not eligible.”

“I learned from my recruiters how difficult it was very quick. In Kentucky, our ineligibility percentage is even higher,” General Tonini shared of his experience as Adjutant General in Kentucky. “Whether it was education, obesity, or any other factor, my recruiters had a very small number of individuals to work with.”

Obesity alone disqualifies 31 percent of youth from serving. And the situation is only becoming dire as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Food insecurity and malnutrition have been linked to obesity. Although childhood obesity rates have increased in recent years, the military has been working since World War II to prevent malnutrition among youth. The connection between food insecurity, nutrition insecurity, and malnutrition perpetuates epidemics of obesity, diabetes, and other malnutrition-related diseases in America. The pandemic is only making things worse.

The COVID-19 pandemic is estimated to cause 18 million children to experience food insecurity and many to suffer from child malnutrition that can manifest as obesity. In addition, the U.S. is not expected to return to pre-pandemic levels of food security for a decade. While programs like National School Lunch Program and the Meals on Wheels for Kids Act work to improve kids’ access to healthy and nutritious meals, additional funding needs to be flooded into expanding, strengthening, and modernizing efforts to ensure children have access to the food they need no matter where they are.

“The gaps are what happens on the weekends,” Admiral Dussault explained, “while there are local resources that provide kids with packed meals for the weekend, it’s not enough.”

“Many think that this is just an urban issue,” said General Anderson, “in reality, this is happening in neighborhoods rural and urban across the country.”

All children must have consistent access to fresh and nutritious food year-round so that they can grow up healthy and prepared for any career they choose. Lawmakers need to increase funding for school meal programs to accommodate the unprecedented changes the health crisis has inspired. Increasing children’s access to nutritious meals and snacks will help America recover from the problems of today and tomorrow.

Admiral Barnett’s final thoughts best encapsulate the major takeaways from the report and event: “We need to continually associate obesity, malnutrition and national security. Now is the time to do something about it.”

Read the full report here, and watch the event below.

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