EDITORIAL COMMENT: The Serving Line
DoD Joins The Battle Against Obesity
Obesity and diet have come to represent a significant enough concern that the Department of Defense (DoD) has joined with 16 other federal departments and agencies to promote healthy living.
The cooperation is in response to the White House's National Prevention Council strategy, a comprehensive plan to help increase the number of Americans who are healthy at every stage of life.
For its part, DoD is stepping up implementation of programs and policies to promote good nutrition and physical activity among service members as well as their families.
DoD is concerned that a shift over the last 30 years toward less healthful foods, combined with a diminished commitment to exercise, is threatening health and national security, as well as raising healthcare costs.
Obesity is considered the most urgent public health problem in America today, according to “Lots to Lose: How America's Health and Obesity Crisis Threatens Our Economic Future,” a report released in June by The Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC), a Washington, D.C. -based think tank.
More than a quarter (27 percent) of 17- to 24-year-old men and women in the general population do not meet the military's weight standard and are too overweight to serve. In 2010, 59 percent of female recruits and 47 percent of male recruits failed the military's entry-level fitness test, according to the BPC report.
Also notable is a large increase in new recruits with bone fractures, which is attributed to calcium deficiencies, and so many dental problems that 62 percent of new soldiers are not immediately deployable.
The White House's National Prevention Council Strategy casts a wide net by trying to promote healthy living and reduce the problem of obesity in young people and adults throughout the country.
DoD is interested in recruiting men and women who meet fitness requirements and can handle the physical rigors of military service.
Toward that end, DoD has been working with dietitians to improve food at military facilities, as well as to educate warfighters to follow a healthy diet.
Military food service also has a larger role than simply fueling the warfighter with nutritious meals in support of a healthy, active lifestyle. Throughout the service branches, traffic stoplight color categories and Fit- Plate initiatives assist service members to make smart meal selections.
The BPC report suggests that much work remains. Changing the food systems throughout the military requires a commitment across multiple organizations, including military exchanges, the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) and the Defense Commissary Agency (DeCA).
A similar challenge faces the Prevention Council as it seeks to reform a culture accustomed to eating fast foods and large portion sizes to instead make informed, healthful eating choices.
As DoD works from the top down, food program managers and personnel in the field must work in concert with their customers as well as the prime vendor community to see that these goals are accomplished from the bottom up.