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Dining hall food to get healthy makeover

Feb. 9, 2012 - 04:48PM   |   Last Updated: Feb. 9, 2012 - 04:48PM  |  
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Coming soon to a mess hall near you: healthier food.

Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs Dr. Jonathan Woodson joined first lady Michelle Obama at Little Rock Air Force Base, Ark., on Thursday to announce changes to the menus of 1,100 dining halls at military bases nationwide.

Healthier choices also will be available at vending machines and restaurants and snack bars on bases and posts, according to a press release.

The overhaul of the military's dining menus and choices is the first in 20 years, Woodson said, and is part of the department's effort to fight a nationwide problem — its expanding waistline.

"America has a growing problem," Woodson said. "We have an issue of increasing obesity within the civilian population and a history of poor nutritional choices, both in the civilian and military populations that's affecting readiness."

Woodson said nearly 30 percent of potential military recruits ages 17 to 24 cannot pass military weight standards. The services also discharge about 1,200 entry-level candidates each year due to their inability to meet fitness standards.

In addition, 20 percent of active-duty and National Guard military health system beneficiaries between ages 40 and 49 are obese. More than 40 percent of military retirees in that age group also have been diagnosed with obesity.

The Defense Department estimates it spends $1.4 billion on medical care for weight-related problems and conditions among its beneficiaries.

The first lady, on a three-day tour to promote healthy choices and fitness as part of her "Let's Move" campaign, praised the changes, saying the military is "leading by example."

"The Department of Defense is making a groundbreaking commitment to the health of our troops and their families," she said. "And in doing so, they're not just sending a powerful message throughout the military community, they're sending a message to our entire country."

In addition to changing selections and choices at military dining halls, the program will focus on "assessing the nutritional environment at military facilities" and will include an educational component to teach military children to make better choices and maintain fitness.

The administration chose to announce the initiative at Little Rock, the former home of Big Mac fan President Clinton, because the city's base already has been experimenting with offering healthful food choices, including grilled meats, vegetables and whole grains.

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