Spiking rates of childhood obesity are a threat to national security and demand government intervention, according to retired military leaders.
In a report entitled "Still Too Fat to Fight" that was released Tuesday, the advocacy group "Mission: Readiness" described obesity as an epidemic that poses a direct challenge to military effectiveness.
The group called on Congress to continue supporting stricter nutrition standards for school lunches — the kind that have become controversial among small-government conservatives.
"As retired admirals and generals, we know that America is not powerless in the face of this insidious epidemic," Mission wrote. "Getting the junk food out of our schools is the obvious next step in our efforts to address the childhood obesity crisis."
In one sense, the report states, obesity means the military has a smaller pool of eligible members because 1 in 4 Americans is too overweight to join.
Combined with other disqualifying factors — including criminal backgrounds and poor education — excess weight means that an estimated 75 percent of young adults could not serve in the military even if they desired to, according to the report.
But obesity poses what may be an even greater challenge to existing service members, whose performance the group believes is negatively affected by excess weight.
According to the report, many recruits have to undergo remedial physical fitness instruction prior to basic training, and excess weight also leads to more sprains and stress fractures in the field.
"All of these unhealthy situations can have an impact on military readiness," the report states. "Injured soldiers often cannot be deployed with their units and a soldier's failure to pass the military's physical fitness tests can result in discharge.
"Worse, more soldiers were evacuated from Iraq or Afghanistan for serious sprains and fractures than for combat injuries … While it is true that even fully fit soldiers suffer strains or fractures … overweight or less-fit young men and women are at higher risk for these injuries."
Members of Mission are senior retired military leaders who call for "smart investments in America's children."
Their report praised government action against obesity, specifically efforts by municipalities such as Philadelphia and New York City to reduce junk food in schools.
U.S. students consume 400 billion calories from junk food sold in schools each year, or more weight than the aircraft carrier Midway, according to the report.