WICHITA, Kan. — The nation's obesity epidemic is causing significant recruiting problems for the military, with one in three young adults nationwide too fat to enlist, according to report issued Wednesday by a group of retired military leaders.
The nonprofit, non-partisan group called Mission: Readiness (Military Leaders for Kids) is promoting healthy school lunches in Kansas and across the nation as a way to combat the problem. In Kansas, 29 percent of teenagers are overweight, according to figures it cites from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About a third of American children and teens are considered obese or overweight.
"We think a more healthy lifestyle over the long term will have significant impacts on both the military posture — those available to get into the military — and across our society as a whole from a medical perspective," retired Brig. Gen. John Schmader said in a phone interview ahead of the report's release.
Obesity is among the leading causes of military ineligibility among people ages 17 to 24, the report notes. Others are a lack of adequate education, a criminal history or drug use.
All those put together mean that 71 percent of Kansans are ineligible for military service, according to the group.
The military has also seen a 61 percent rise in obesity since 2002 among its active duty forces, driving up obesity-related health care spending and costs to replace unfit military personnel, the report said.
Schmader, who retired from the military after 32 years and now lives near Leavenworth, is among a group of retired military leaders who has been going to schools around the state promoting healthier lifestyles.
About 99 percent of the schools in Kansas have adopted healthier meals under the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, which requires more fruit, vegetables and whole grains in school meals, along with less sodium, sugar and fat. It was a major achievement, the first update to school lunch rules in decades designed to make school meals more nutritious.
First Llady Michelle Obama lobbied largely behind the scenes for the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010.
Schmader lauded her efforts, but said his non-partisan group of military leaders had been pushing for healthier school meals long before the first lady got involved.