Blog | Event | March 25, 2022

Retired Generals in North Carolina Spotlight Connection Between Childhood Obesity and National Security

Malnutrition manifesting as obesity imperils the health of North Carolina’s children and the military preparedness of the nation

Retired generals with Mission: Readiness met with North Carolina experts on child nutrition to discuss how food insecurity and malnutrition are impacting national security and military readiness. The roundtable discussion centered around concerns with rising obesity and what can be done to help more young North Carolinians access the nutritious foods necessary to grow up strong and healthy.

In North Carolina, the state with one of the largest military populations in the country, 72 percent of youth between the ages of 17 and 24 cannot qualify to serve in the military. The rising rate of childhood obesity is a leading medical disqualifier that adds to this shocking Department of Defense estimate. Panelists discussed the implications of this harrowing reality—as well as possible solutions.

As a 2020 Mission: Readiness report on North Carolina highlighted, one of the most pressing factors fueling the obesity crisis is that young Americans from all walks of life do not consume enough fresh fruits and vegetables. Poor dietary habits can lead to multiple health issues, including obesity, especially for children. While obesity alone is a cause for concern, the health problems caused by obesity in young people can impact their future ability to serve in the armed forces or thrive in other career paths.

The panel noted that several federal and state nutrition programs can help to fight this crisis. One of the most important is the National School Lunch Program (NSLP), which is responsible for the meals many North Carolinians receive in the school lunch line. Many of these meals go to children who might otherwise have difficulty accessing fresh, nutritious food.

Along with the NSLP, the USDA’s Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program (FFVP), the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the FarmsSHARE program, School Nutrition Programs, and the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) all help to combat the rising rates of obesity in North Carolina and nationwide. Unfortunately, barriers to accessibility and a lack of funding often hamstring these programs.

In order to ensure that every child has equal access to the nutrition they need, the panelists outlined that the reach of these critical programs needs to be increased, and the programs need to be properly funded. Increased investments at the state and federal levels, innovations at the community, state and federal levels, modernization in food delivery, and diversification of access points to fresh and nutritious foods will support children’s health and well-being throughout the year.

“With 72 percent of young North Carolinians ineligible for service, one thing is for certain: food security is imperative to national security. The recently released Healthy North Carolina 2030 report showcases just why all North Carolinians should have the chance to grow up healthy. We need to do everything we can in order to make sure that our youth get the nutritious food they need to be ready to join the military or successfully follow whatever path they desire,” said Major General Peggy Wilmoth, U.S. Army (Ret.).

“There are many programs that operate to support, but many North Carolinians may not know they exist and the fact that they are critical to building a strong, healthy foundation for North Carolina’s and our nation’s children. It is important that we relay not just the important role of these programs broadly, but the important role of these programs to our national security,” said Brigadier General Maureen LeBoeuf, U.S. Army (Ret.).

“Today, as a staggering number of our young adults are not eligible to serve, many because they are not physically fit, access to fresh and nutritious foods throughout a child’s development must be treated as a key component of our national security. This access is critical to ensuring that our youth grow up healthy and prepared to succeed in the military or at whatever career they choose,” said Brigadier General Blake Williams, U.S. Army (Ret.).

Watch the video below to see the whole panel discussion: