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Former Military Leaders Express Concern Over School-Meal-Standards Battle

A group of retired United States military leaders have taken aim at a new enemy: the weakening of school nutrition standards.

On Friday, Major General Tracy Strevey Jr. published an op-ed in Roll Call railing against the ongoing battle over the standards, which my colleague Evie Blad has been covering on the Rules for Engagement blog. Long story short: The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 created new, more-stringent school meal standards, which groups like the School Nutrition Association have been pushing back against due to cost and difficulty of enforcement.

Strevey, a cardiac/thoracic surgeon, is actively opposed to the weakening of such standards. "Without continued vigilance," he warns, "we face a future in which our kids grow even fatter, resulting in huge costs for health care and reduced productivity, and imperiled national security."

Wonder what he means by that last point? Strevey is a member of Mission: Readiness, which is comprised of retired military leaders "calling for smart investments in America's children." According to a report the group released in 2012, 25 percent of 17- to 24-year-olds would currently be ineligible to serve in the military because of excess body fat.

Well and Good

The 2012 report, aptly named "Still Too Fat to Fight," decried the prevalence of junk food available in schools, noting that students consume a whopping 400 billion calories in such food annually. That would equal more than 2 billion candy bars--which would weigh more than the aircraft carrier Midway, per this EdWeek report

According to a study published in the journal Pediatrics back in August 2012, students living in states with laws that limit high-calorie food and drinks in schools were found to have smaller increases in body mass index (BMI) than students in states with weaker or no such laws. U.S. middle and high schools have cut back on the amount of sugary sodas available to students, per a August 2012 study from the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, but they often still have easy access to other sugar-sweetened beverages, including sports and fruit drinks.

That's why Strevey and his colleagues are so up in arms about the potential weakening of these new school nutrition standards. Under an agriculture spending bill passed by a House of Representatives panel last week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture would be required to grant schools a waiver from some strengthened nutrition standards for the 2014-15 school year if they can prove that compliance created an economic hardship, according to Evie.

"We are at an important juncture. Schools are capable of serving healthier foods and the vast majority are already doing so," said Strevey in a statement. "Congress should resist efforts to derail continued implementation of science-based nutrition guidelines for school meals and snacks. Together, we can make sure that America's child obesity crisis does not become a national security crisis."

Make sure you check back with Evie on the Rules for Engagement blog for all the latest on the school nutrition battle.

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