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U.S. military meals redux: More fruit and vegetables, less fat

February 9, 2012 |  9:41 am

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The diet revolution has a new front. The U.S. military -- revising its nutrition standards for the first time in two decades -- will soon be serving more fruit and less fat.

Pentagon officials will officially announce the program Thursday afternoon when First Lady Michelle Obama visits Little Rock Air Force Base in Arkansas. The military has already launched a pilot program there to improve the nutrition of its food.

Obama's visit is part of a three-day tour marking the second anniversary of her “Let’s Move” program, designed to improve the health of children through better diet and exercise.

The military's efforts to improve nutrition go beyond the efforts focused on children and the next generation’s health.

“The Department of Defense considers obesity not only a national problem, but a national security issue,” Dr. Jonathan Woodson, assistant secretary of defense for health affairs, told reporters in a conference call earlier this week. “About a quarter of entry-level candidates are too overweight to actually either enter the military or sustain themselves through the first enlistment.”

As famed French leader Napoleon Bonaparte learned to his chagrin, an army does indeed march on its stomach, an aphorism sometimes also attributed to Frederick the Great. In any case, generations of war novels and movies have portrayed the fuel needed to move the U.S. military machine as little better than swill.

But it has been expensive fuel, indeed.

The Defense Department says it spends an estimated $4.5 billion a year on food services, and $1.1 billion a year on medical care to cope with obesity-related issues. The new campaign will increase the offerings of fruit, vegetables and whole grains in general, while cutting back on fats. Military dependents can expect to have to make healthier choices in base schools and snack bars.

The changes mirror those that nutritionists are seeking in society.

Most experts agree that the United States has dietary problems, too many obese people who eat too much and move around too little -- much to the detriment of the civilian health care system.

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-- Michael Muskal

Photo: Military researchers in 2007 experiment with foods for future Meals, Ready to Eat, hoping to make the food more palatable. Credit: Pete Souza / Chicago Tribune
 

 

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