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Strong Child Nutrition Programs and the U.S. Military
Today, President Obama will send his FY2013 budget request to Congress, marking the beginning of the FY2013 budget process.
As Congress debates support for our national nutrition programs, I hope lawmakers will remember Armed Forces officials’ call for robust improvements in child nutrition programs. Learn why they wrote a letter to Congress in this excerpt from the 2012 Hunger Report:
In recent years, health professionals in the developing world have concluded that nothing is more important to human and social development than good nutrition at critical stages of a person’s life, especially in childhood.
Countries that have expanded nutrition programs, such as Bangladesh, Brazil, and Ghana, have made extraordinary progress in areas ranging from children’s health and school performance to national economic growth and political stability. The United States, too, has used national nutrition programs to fight malnutrition. The first major U.S. nutrition program, the National School Lunch Program, was authorized in 1946, following World War II, when officials realized how many would-be soldiers had been rejected for military service because of malnutrition.
Conditions in the United States today are much different than in developing countries. But the United States, like other countries, must sustain the progress it has made and adapt to changing circumstances. “Obesity is now the leading medical reason why young Americans today are unable to qualify for the armed forces,” reads a statement signed by dozens of retired generals and other senior Armed Forces officials and sent to leaders of Congress in 2010, on the eve of the most recent child nutrition reauthorization. The statement urged policymakers to support robust improvements in child nutrition programs. “At least 9 million young adults, or 27 percent of all young Americans ages 17 to 24, are too overweight to enlist,” they noted.
Childhood obesity and hunger both demand our attention since they carry serious consequences for individuals and for the country as a whole. The two problems are frequently interconnected.
Philadelphia, for example, is one of the poorest cities in the United States, which makes it one of the hungriest as well. The obesity rate of Philadelphia’s poor children is higher than that of children who are not poor. In this, Philadelphia is not atypical but representative. According to a national survey of children’s health, “The odds of a child’s being obese or overweight were 20–60 percent higher among children in neighborhoods with the most unfavorable social conditions.” Unfavorable social conditions, in plainer language, are the many problems that add up to what it means to live in a poor neighborhood. These include high levels of food insecurity, intermittent hunger, and limited access to supermarkets or to easy transportation to higher-income neighborhoods where healthy foods are readily accessible.
+ Read more from the 2012 Hunger Report's Chapter 2, Fortifying the U.S. Nutrition Safety Net.
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