Pentagon attacks obesity with new food choices

Thu Feb 9, 2012 6:52pm EST
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By Deborah Charles

LITTLE ROCK, Arkansas (Reuters) - Obese Americans in the military are a national security hazard and U.S. first lady Michelle Obama wants to see that change.

Obama, who has led a healthy eating and fitness program for children for two years, lent her voice on Thursday to the military's efforts to overhaul the food it serves.

In an event at Little Rock Air Force Base, Obama announced a new Pentagon obesity and nutritional awareness campaign that will change nutrition standards across the services for the first time in 20 years.

The changes will bring more fruits, vegetables, whole grains and food choices that are lower in fat to 1.45 million troops a day at all 1,100 American military dining facilities in the coming months.

"This isn't just a drop in the bucket - this is really a big splash," Obama said.

"It's happening because our military leaders know it's not just a diet issue, it's not just a health issue. This is truly a national security issue," she said at the base, which already has a pilot program to improve nutritional quality of food available to service members and their families.

Obama cited a recent army study that says more than one quarter of 17- to 24-year-olds are too overweight to serve in the military. Active members of the military are also becoming more overweight, a Pentagon official said, and that causes a "readiness problem."

"The military is always taking the lead in terms of setting standards," said Assistant U.S. Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs Jonathan Woodson. "Now we have an opportunity to take leadership ... as we face this epidemic of obesity."   Continued...

<p>U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama joins the lunch line at Parklawn Elementary School in Alexandria, Virginia January 25, 2012. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque</p>