Blog | Event | April 8, 2022

Retired Generals and Local Food Experts in Virginia Highlight Damage Dealt by Childhood Obesity Crisis, Including Harm to National Security

Food Insecurity Creates Challenges for Virginia’s Children and America’s Military Readiness

Retired generals with Mission: Readiness met with Virginia nutrition experts to discuss the problems caused by childhood malnutrition and possible solutions. The virtual roundtable, entitled “How Sound Child Nutrition in Virginia Can Bolster National Security,” centered around concerns with rising obesity and what can be done to help more young Virginians access the nutritious foods necessary to grow up strong and healthy.

A staggering 71 percent of young people aged 17 to 24 cannot qualify for military service, with obesity being a leading medical disqualifier. In Virginia, this ineligibility figure is only marginally better, at 70 percent. And 15 percent of Virginia youth between 10 and 17 have obesity.

School meal programs are often how kids receive a majority of their healthy, nutritious foods. Unfortunately, participation in school lunch programs also decreased during the pandemic, from nearly 30 million participants nationwide per day in 2019, to 23 million in 2020. This significant decline will likely contribute to rising obesity rates.

Obesity in childhood can lead to lifelong health consequences, including high blood pressure, diabetes, joint problems, asthma, and high cholesterol. These conditions create problems not only for public health, but for national security. Obesity in young people can impact their future ability to serve in the armed forces or thrive in other careers.

Fortunately, there are a number of programs that can help families and children in Virginia deal with these issues, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, and the National School Lunch Program. Research shows such programs can reduce obesity among children and adolescents: some studies estimate a reduction in childhood obesity by five percent.

In order to ensure that all children have consistent access to fresh and nutritious food at all stages of development—prenatally, birth to 5, and school-age—the panelists reinforced the need to expand the reach of these critical programs, and to fund them at the proper level. 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.

“We owe it to Virginia’s future, and to our national security, to provide young people with better access to fresh and nutritious food. Food insecurity leads to malnutrition, which often manifests as obesity. Obesity is preventing many young people in Virginia from achieving their career and life goals, including serving in the military. That’s the connection between food security and national security,” said Major General Malcolm Frost, U.S. Army (Ret.).

“Strengthening and improving these programs is vital to achieving the goal of reducing childhood obesity and promoting better health for young Virginians. Helping young people live healthier lives is crucial for their success in whatever field they choose, including the armed forces,” said Brigadier General Sandra Alvey, U.S. Army (Ret.).

“It’s important that we give Virginia’s next generation an opportunity to grow up healthy, strong, and prepared for whatever career they decide to pursue,” said Sarah Steely, Director of No Kid Hungry Virginia.

“There’s no question that childhood obesity can have serious, negative health impacts that last into adulthood. Bolstering food security is a key part of the solution to the growing obesity epidemic that has significantly damaged the health of our children,” said Mercedes Kirkland-Doyle, Founder and CEO of The Good News Community Kitchen.

For a full recording of the panel discussion, view the video below


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