Letter to Congress: Child Nutrition Reauthorization
Retired military leaders urge lawmakers to strengthen child nutrition programs
Over 300 members of Mission: Readiness sent a letter to members of Congress explaining the value of federal childhood nutrition programs. The retired admirals and generals call upon lawmakers to expand and enhance key programs in order to combat childhood malnutrition and obesity. Read the full text of the letter below.
October 25, 2021
Dear Members of Congress:
We write as retired admirals and generals who are gravely concerned about the future of our Nation’s children and our national security. We believe that in order to ensure the future success of America’s youth and safeguard our military readiness, it is essential that you prioritize bipartisan efforts to adapt and modernize federal child nutrition programs. These programs are deeply rooted in efforts to secure America’s national defense.
Seventy-five years ago, Congress established the National School Lunch Program “as a measure of national security, to safeguard the health and well-being of the Nation’s children.” Lawmakers created the program in response to testimony by military leaders detailing how impairments related to malnutrition had been the reason 40 percent of recruits were rejected from military service during World War II. In the years since passage, the NSLP has grown to provide access to free, reduced-priced, or subsidized, nutritious meals to 22 million American children.
Over the years, Congress has utilized the Child Nutrition Reauthorization (CNR) process and other means to build upon the NSLP to ensure children have access to vital nutrition, including through the creation of the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP), and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). Despite providing critical nutrition for millions of children, these programs have not been adequately modernized to meet current needs. Malnutrition once again poses a grave threat to our national security in the form of a child obesity crisis that disqualifies one in three young Americans from military service.
We are heartened by strong interest from both parties in evaluating and addressing gaps in our patchwork of federal nutrition programs to ensure they are effectively meeting current program gaps and access challenges.
Earlier this year, the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Forestry, and Nutrition held a bipartisan hearing on options for a new CNR. In June, the House Civil Rights and Human Services Subcommittee held their own hearing on the topic. President Biden has a number of proposals that would strengthen children’s access to fresh and nutritious food, ideas that are rooted in the long-standing bipartisan work in improving child nutrition.
It has been more than a decade since Congress last reauthorized key child nutrition programs; we urge you to build upon this bipartisan momentum and come together to make these programs more modern and effective. Mission: Readiness has released a Nutrition Policy Roadmap whitepaper detailing our priorities for any major child nutrition legislation, which we have enclosed with this letter. As our whitepaper details, many emergency flexibilities authorized by Congress and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to sustain nutrition programs during the pandemic provide pathways to more effectively distribute existing program resources.
Child obesity is the leading medical reason that 71 percent of young Americans cannot serve their Nation in uniform. Without meaningful action to address this growing national crisis, current trends pose an existential threat to the future of our Nation and our ability to sustain an all-volunteer force.
Federal nutrition programs alone cannot solve this growing public health and national security crisis, but they are a critical part of the equation. Congress must prioritize action to update and strengthen key nutrition programs created to improve our military readiness. Doing so is critical not only for our national security, but the success of all children, regardless of whether or not they choose to serve in uniform.