Monday, August 11, 2014


by Alisha Kirby, SI&A Cabinet Report ::

August 11, 2014  ::  (District of Columbia)  ::  They’ve stormed the beaches at Normandy, held fast during a Cold War and survived the jungles of Vietnam.

But for a special group of retired military executives, there are still battles to fight here at home, one being childhood obesity.

Mission: Readiness, a nonpartisan, national security organization of almost 500 retired admirals and generals, has taken on as a mandate the education of policymakers on issues they link to national security – access to healthier food at school, expansion of high-quality early childhood education programs and making improvements in the quality and quantity of K-12 physical education offerings.
P.E. and national security? That’s right.  The idea is that if kids can maintain a healthy lifestyle and achieve academically, they’ll succeed later, whether they join the armed forces or remain in civilian life.

“Physical activity needs to be one of the higher priorities,” said U.S. Coast Guard Reserve Lt. Jake Ferreira, the group’s California deputy director. “When we look at new local control accountability dollars or local control accountability plans that all districts have to take care of, if you look at physical activity, it’s buried under other student outcomes. We’re trying to elevate that and make sure people are aware that the correlating factors associated with physical fitness for young people are wonderful both in the classroom and their overall wellness.”

Some 25 percent of the nation’s young adults are too overweight to join the armed forces, according to surveys conducted by the military and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. When combined with other disqualifiers such as poor education or criminal backgrounds, the number of young people excluded from the military jumps to 71 percent of young people ages 17 to 24, according to a study conducted by the Department of Defense.

This creates a problem in building a new generation of soldiers.

In California, an annual fitness test is given to all students in fifth, seventh and ninth grade, which measures six areas of physical health, including aerobic capacity and body composition.

In 2013, only about a third of those tested scored in the “Healthy Fitness Zone,” according to the California Department of Education.

This represents a slight improvement over the previous year.

But, looking only at the results of body composition statistics, about 40 percent of those tested would be considered overweight or obese.

In 2012, Mission: Readiness issued a report titled “Still Too Fat to Fight” – a follow-up of its “Too Fat to Fight” from 2010 – which detailed the lack of physical activity among young adults and the need for healthier food choices in schools.

That’s why the group supports the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids act – federal regulations aimed at increasing the amount of whole grains, fruits and vegetables served in school meal programs while lowering sugars, sodium and calorie intake.

Much less progress, however, has been made when it comes to physical education.

“It’s unfortunately almost onesies and two’sies rather than a nationwide movement,” said retired Brig. Gen. David Brahms, U.S. Marine Corps. “It appears that as the cost of running schools goes up and other priorities seem more important, the classic P.E. seems to be disappearing.”

The group has taken a number of actions to try and increase awareness about the health benefits of beginning exercise at a young age. They partner with local organizations such as Move Your Feet Before You Eat, which uses special educational events to promote health and well-being through including regular physical fitness into daily life.

Mission: Readiness also meets directly with policymakers and testifies at state and federal legislative sessions.

“There are some awfully powerful human beings in our organization spread out across the land who know how to work a bully pulpit and talk to leaders in their communities as well as nationally,” said Brahms. “We continue to grind and hope people listen. And if they don’t, we come back again.”

As the group continues pushing for more focus on P.E. in schools, Brahms does have one recommendation for schools, parents and children: just walk.

“It doesn’t require any special equipment, it doesn’t require a special venue, and it’s the kind of thing where you’re not only exercising, but you have the opportunity to interact with fellow students, with teachers, and with principals,” he said. “If we did that four or five times a week for 20 minutes, I think you’d begin to see not only a reduction in the number of youngsters who are obese, but also a developing of patterns where exercise is an important part of the day.”

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