Thursday, February 09, 2012

First Lady Approved: U.S. Military Minds Its Peas And Cukes With New Healthy Food Program

Nutrition as a national security issue: Department of Defense will transform food service for troops and their families...
Little Rock, Arkansas:
Call it the Let's Move! Victory Event: On Thursday afternoon, First Lady Michelle Obama visited Little Rock Air Force Base to join top Department of Defense brass as they announced a major new initiative to upgrade the quality of food at military bases, which will include a comprehensive nutritional awareness campaign. Under a program called the "Food Transformation Initiative," the DoD will be changing menus across the military for the first time in twenty years, bringing more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meats and low-fat food choices to more than 1,000 service member dining facilities in the coming months, impacting 1.5 million troops. (Above: Mrs. Obama greets chefs in the base mess hall)

"This isn't just a drop in the bucket. I mean, this is really a big splash," Mrs. Obama said. "This is an example of America's entire military once again stepping forward to lead by example."

Mrs. Obama's other signature campaign, Joining Forces, supports military families, and the Food Transformation Initiative does, too.

"The DOD is also going to conduct a comprehensive evaluation of every single military base in America to make sure they're serving healthy food not just to those in uniform, but to their families," Mrs. Obama said.

"They'll be looking to improve the food served in dining facilities, school cafeterias, vending machines, snack bars, and any other places where military families purchase food."

Mrs. Obama had had an outfit change for the second stop of her four-state anniversary tour for Let's Move!. In the morning, to celebrate in Des Moines, Iowa, she'd worn clothes suitable for dancing with thousands of kids. But as she was briefed on the project by Air Force officials, the First Lady was clad in a charcoal-gray suit, a red brooch, and patent-leather flats. (Above: Mrs. Obama talks with an airman)

DoD spends about $4.65 billion on food service annually. Little Rock is one of six bases that are testing a pilot program to serve healthier food, the First Lady was told during her briefing; the program is being expanded to seven more bases. The success of the Food Transformation Initiative, Mrs. Obama was told, depends not only on providing healthier food, but changing the eating habits of service people and educating them about nutrition. She "perked up" at the mention of both an upgraded "cold" and "sizzling" salad bar, with stir-fry vegetables, pool reported.

The staff told her that the military has made strides in promoting better fitness among recruits, and is now focusing on healthier food. Brigadier Gen. Eden Murrie, director of Air Force Services, had the quote of the day.

"We are working hard to make healthy sexy," he said.

Turning to the economic implications, Mrs. Obama said, "A lot of people think eating healthy costs more. But time and again, the military has shown that you can do both."

In the end, it will save taxpayers' money. The military spends an estimated $1.1 billion a year on medical care associated with excess weight and obesity, according to Assistant U.S. Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs Jonathan Woodson. And DoD estimates that nearly a quarter of Americans between 17 and 24 are too overweight for basic training.

"This is truly a national security issue," Mrs. Obama said.

Mrs. Obama has been playing "Taps" for obesity in the military since the beginning of the Let's Move! campaign. Included in the foundation document for Let's Move!, the Report from the White House Task Force on Childhood Obesity, is another report, "Too Fat to Fight." It was created by Mission: Readiness, a bipartisan coalition of retired military brass who have lobbied aggressively for child health and wellness initiatives, arguing that America's high prevalence of obesity is a national security threat, and a hindrance to readiness. Mrs. Obama easily added the rhetoric to her arsenal, and has spoken about it before.

In fact, a representative from Mission: Readiness testified before Congress on behalf of improving food service in US schools during the child nutrition legislation reauthorization hearings that ultimately led to what is regarded as one of Mrs. Obama's biggest Let's Move! achievements, the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act 2010, the school nutrition law that dramatically improved cafeteria standards. The military's new meals protocol is similar to what children will be served in the National School Lunch Program.

The First Lady noted that the military could set an example for all Americans by adopting healthier eating habits.

"When you make healthy eating a priority in your lives," she said, "the rest of us are more likely to make it a priority in our lives."

When Mrs. Obama toured the Hercules Dining Facility, staff chefs showed her an array of fresh fruit cups and a plentiful salad bar, and she checked out the hot entrees. She encouraged healthy habits during a visit with individual airmen at their tables.

"You all look really good, really fit," she told one group, who sat at a long table, their plates filled with greens, broccoli and chicken. "Thank you for eating your vegetables. We need you strong."

Mrs. Obama was also overheard commiserating with one airman who apparently doesn't like the new food.

"Don't worry, you'll be a vegetable guy soon," Mrs. Obama said.

After her visit, Mrs. Obama flew to Fort Worth, Texas, to have dinner at an Olive Garden restaurant with eight guests. Her anniversary tour continues through Saturday in Texas and Florida. Aides accompanying Mrs. Obama on the three-day tour include Senior Policy Advisor for Healthy Food Initiatives Sam Kass, her Chief of Staff, Tina Tchen; top Domestic Policy Advisor, Jocelyn Frye; Communications Director, Kristina Schake; and Press Secretary Hannah August, among others. Members of the White House new media team and photographers are capturing the action.

CLICK HERE for all anniversary posts, including Mrs. Obama's tour schedule.

*The transcript of Mrs. Obama's remarks.

Download the full White House Task Force on Childhood Obesity Report. [PDF].

*White House photo by Sonya N. Herbert at top; other by pool