Sadly, our national childhood obesity epidemic has become so familiar that it’s sometimes easy to forget just how damaging malnutrition is to our youth and our country’s future.
Here are some facts that should provide a reality check:
In short, our youth don’t consume sufficient healthy, nutritious food, especially fresh fruits and vegetables.
These eating habits can lead to malnutrition, which often manifests in the U.S. as obesity. Food insecurity, or a lack of availability of nutritious food, is key to this problem, with children lacking access to such foods turning to cheaper, unhealthier options.
Mission: Readiness, a nonpartisan national security organization that I support includes more than 750 retired admirals and generals working to strengthen national security by ensuring that children stay in school, stay fit, and stay out of trouble.
Recently, I participated on a panel of Arizona food experts and Mission: Readiness members addressing the importance of combating childhood food insecurity and malnutrition.
The round table highlighted that these issues cause young people to struggle to reach their goals in life, whether that’s military service or some other career path. Poor dietary habits that lead to childhood obesity quickly become lifelong health challenges, including heart disease, bone and joint issues, and diabetes.
Thankfully, there are several federal programs that bolster food security by helping children consistently receive healthy, nutritious meals. These programs include the National School Lunch Program and the Summer Food Service Program, which help school children receive healthy meals, the USDA’s Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, commonly known as “WIC.”
I shared some disturbing facts earlier. Here are some encouraging ones:
All speak to strong, positive outcomes; unfortunately, barriers to accessibility and a lack of funding often limit the effectiveness or reach of these programs.
To combat food insecurity, reduce childhood obesity, and enhance long-term national security, we must ensure we recognize, prioritize, and work to improve these programs.
It is imperative that we have strong nutrition programs that can both serve the needs of Arizona’s children and ensure they can better achieve their full potential.
Lt. General Richard Zahner, U.S. Army (retired) is a member of Mission: Readiness. Learn more at: strongnation.org/missionreadiness.