As we remember the many sacrifices of our military this Veterans Day, we should also consider the upcoming generation and what our nation can do to help ensure our long-term national security. More than 300 retired generals and admirals like myself are concerned that one in four young adults currently is too overweight to join the military and that weight problems have become the top medical reason why young adults cannot enlist.
In Illinois alone, 529,000 18- to 24-year olds were overweight or obese in 2010. While no single action will resolve the obesity issue, a comprehensive overhaul of school nutrition and fitness programs is an excellent place to start. New lunch and breakfast nutrition standards have gone into effect this fall, and soon the USDA will update standards for snack foods -- critically important steps in improving the health of our children. These standards are helping parents reinforce healthier eating habits with their kids and deserve our full support; in a recent California poll, parents (91 percent) and students (82 percent) overwhelmingly support the changes to school nutrition standards. Illinois representatives can also help by supporting efforts in Congress to provide schools with resources for the equipment and training that cafeteria workers need to make healthier foods more appealing to kids.
Today, all Americans should first thank a veteran, and then resolve to help our children eat healthier meals and get more exercise. It's not just a health issue. It's a matter of national security.
Richard B. Myers
General, U.S. Air Force (Retired)
Former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff