Child obesity as a national security issue

First, I want to recommend to you the Lunch Tray blog, written in Houston by Bettina Elias Siegel. She really works it, and is a constant source of information and courant perspective. This morning's case in point (for me; she posted this April 26) is an interview she did with retired Air Force General Norman Seip, a member of Mission Readiness, a bipartisan coalition of 200 retired senior military leaders who bemoan — and more importantly, work to redress —the fact that 75 percent of Americans ages 17-24 are unfit for military service, because they have criminal records, haven't graduated high school, or are physically unfit.

From his first answer, Seip sounds important points:

Q: Is it fair to say that your group believes improving school food is an important factor in combating obesity?
A: That’s true, but we don’t want people to think we’re putting this obesity problem all on the schools. We realized that children take upwards of 40 percent of their calories in school – some of them get almost all of their calories in school, depending on how many meals they eat — and the timing was right with the reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act. But we never want anyone to think we’re laying this all on the teachers and the school system. It’s going to take industry, it’s going to take local, regional, state and national government intervention to address the obesity epidemic in our country.

I've been wanting for a while to make the point he begins with, that schools are not to blame for the obesity epidemic. Though it's true that many kids get much of what they eat while in school, they get even more of it at home. And that's just math; more significantly, if the schools were required by the public will to feed children only healthy food, they would. Put aside the question of cost, and convenience, and anything else: If parents were militant about their kid's nutrition, schools would have no choice but to respond. So even when someone else is serving, children's nutritional health begins with parental responsibility.

Where I part with troglodytes such as the Center for Consumer Freedom is that "it begins with parental responsibility." But it doesn't end there, and roadblocks or mere indifference in the public realm could be enough to deter families not determined to insist on good nutrition.

As the general says, we will need industry and government willingness to cooperate. Actually, he says "government intervention," but for me that's a little strong. I'd be pleased if we could start by undoing the overwhelming government intervention that underwrites the production of corn and other crops, which makes them far more likely to show up on grocery shelves than healthier crops that aren't subsidized. After that, intervention may be necessary, but I rank it among the less valuable weapons at hand, if only because some people are willing to fight good rules, just because they're rules.

To my view, if parents decide that our kids' nutrition is important — and considering that what we eat constitutes the composition of our bodies, how could it be any more important? — government will follow, even in the face of the overwhelming lobbying conducted by the food-products industry.

Author and wellness innovator Michael Prager helps smart companies
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