A group of retired military officers yesterday cited school lunches as a threat to America’s national security.

Mission: Readiness, as the group is called, appeared yesterday on Capitol Hill with Senator Richard Lugar (R-Ind) and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack touting a report that says fatty school lunches make children so obese that future military recruitment is in jeopardy.

The report, titled Too Fat to Fight, found that more than 9 million young adults, or 27 percent of all Americans age 17-24, are too overweight to join the military.

“Being overweight or obese turns out to be the leading medical reason why applicants fail to qualify for military service,” the report says. “Today, otherwise excellent recruit prospects, some of them with generations of sterling military service in their family history, are turned away because they are just too overweight.”

In addition, the report estimates that the government spends tens of millions of dollars every year to train replacements for service members, sometimes at $50,000 per recruit, who are then discharged because of weight problems.

The solution, the officers say, is a nutrition bill that will make the food available in schools healthier.

“We are calling on Congress to pass new child nutrition legislation that would (a) get the junk food out of our schools, (b) support increased funding to improve nutritional standards and the quality of meals served in schools; and (c) provide more children access to effective programs that cut obesity.”

The pending legislation, called the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, would commit an additional $4.5 billion to child-nutrition programs over the next 10 years and implement the most sweeping changes to those programs in decades. The bill, which has broad bipartisan support, is currently awaiting a Senate vote.

Although all branches of the military now meet recruitment goals, retired Navy Rear Admiral James Barnett Jr., a member of officers group, believes national security in 2030 is “absolutely dependent” on reversing child obesity rates.

“When over a quarter of young adults are too fat to fight, we need to take notice,” he said.
Tom Vilsack, who joined the officers’ group in calling for passage of the child nutrition bill, agreed.

“As the generals and admirals have indicated, it’s a national security concern,” he told MSNBC.