First Lady Lauds DOD’s New Nutrition Campaign
By Elaine Sanchez
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Feb. 10, 2012 The Defense Department’s new obesity and nutrition awareness campaign sets a powerful example for the rest of the nation, First Lady Michelle Obama said yesterday.
First Lady Michelle Obama speaks to airmen in a dining facility on Little Rock Air Force Base, Ark., Feb. 9, 2012. The first lady visited the base to announce the Defense Department's new obesity and nutrition awareness campaign and to learn about Little Rock's food transformation initiative program, intended to provide a wider variety of nutritional foods to service members and their families. U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Rusty Frank
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Speaking from a health-conscious dining facility on Little Rock Air Force Base, Ark., the first lady joined Defense Department officials in unveiling the campaign intended to make sweeping nutritional improvements militarywide for the first time in 20 years.
“This is a big day,” she said. “The DOD is updating their nutritional standards to include more fresh fruits and vegetables, more whole grains, lean meats, [and] low-fat dairy products with every single meal.”
The DOD’s new campaign will give troops, retirees and their families the healthy, nutritious food they need and deserve, the first lady said.
“In doing so, you’re not just sending a powerful message throughout the military community, you’re sending a message to our entire country,” she said. “Whenever our men and women in uniform step forward, we all take notice.”
The campaign, developed by the Military Health System, will join forces with the services to encourage people to make better nutritional choices. It will include updating menu standards at military dining facilities, assessing the nutritional environment of military facilities, and ensuring healthier food is available in dining facilities, schools and in places such as vending machines and snack bars.
These improvements will affect more than 1,000 dining facilities and nearly 1.5 million troops, Obama noted. “This isn’t just a drop in the bucket,” she said. “This is really a big splash.”
These changes are taking place, she noted, because military leaders know it’s not just a diet or health issue. “This is truly a national security issue," she added.
Obama cited a recent Army study that indicates a quarter of the nation’s 17- to 24-year-olds can’t serve in the military due to weight issues. Others may pass weight standards but go on to struggle in basic training or suffer injuries due to years of inactivity and poor nutrition.
This, in turn, results in higher costs for obesity-related injuries, health problems and dental care due to poor nutrition, Obama noted. The Defense Department
spends up to $1.4 billion a year on health-related problems related to obesity -- a “pretty staggering amount,” she said.
DOD created its campaign to address readiness, reduce cost and, above all, to improve the military population’s health, the first lady told the airmen. But as with other efforts, she said, its success will hinge on partnerships.
“If we do our part -- if we do our part as airmen, if we do our part as moms and dads, as community leaders and neighbors -- we can put this country on a path to a stronger, healthier future,” she said.
With its “food transformation initiative,” Little Rock Air Force Base already is on the right path, the first lady noted. “This is a model for what we will see throughout the armed forces,” she said.
The base is one of six bases testing a pilot program to enhance food service quality, variety and availability. Earlier, Air Force Brig. Gen. Eden J. Murrie, director of Air Force Services, gave the first lady a tour of the dining facility to see the improvements first hand, including an abundance of healthy offerings, such as fresh fruit and a fully stocked salad bar.
Murrie noted the Air Force hadn’t upgraded its meal choice or variety for several years. Airmen requested leaders to “beef it up a little,” she said in a briefing with the first lady. “That’s how food transformation was born -- on the feedback from our airmen,” she added.
Little Rock dieticians and chefs joined forces to make a meal that would was well-balanced, well-presented and tasteful, Air Force Col. Brian S. Robinson, commander of the 19th Airlift Wing, explained. He recalled a recent visit to the dining facility. “When I came to my decision point, I was faced with that cold salad bar … [and] the sizzling salad bar. Not a bad dilemma to have,” he said.
These changes, Murrie noted, involved a paradigm shift for all. But “the proof is in the pudding,” she said. “Folks are coming. We’re working hard to make healthy sexy,” she added with a laugh.
Changes improved not only the variety of nutritious offerings, but also the accessibility. The test bases opened their dining facilities to the entire base population, rather than just for airmen in dorms or in uniform. They’ve received positive feedback from spouses and retirees, Murrie noted.
“Provisions on demand,” which gives airmen working on flightlines nearby access to hot and cold meals, --“like Chili’s at the airport -- the grab-and-go,” Murrie said, has proven to be another popular aspect of the effort.
The Air Force has two such “pods” at the moment -- on Travis and Elmendorf air forces bases -- but will add one on Little Rock this spring, she said.
“The fact that we include hot meals, especially in the middle of the night -- [it’s] really popular,” she said, noting more than 100,000 meals have been served at the two pods since September.
The Defense Department always has taken a lead in setting standards for the nation, Dr. Jonathan Woodson, assistant secretary of defense for health affairs and director of the TRICARE Management Agency, noted at the briefing. In 1947, he said, the school lunch program was born after leaders noticed many military recruits were undernourished.
“We have an opportunity to take leadership in shaping nutritional attitudes for the nation as we face this epidemic of obesity and its consequences,” he said.
The first lady expressed her pride at the DOD’s efforts to improve nutrition and health.
“I have never been more confident that if we keep coming together like this as a nation, if we keep working together, we can make a real difference for our children, but more importantly, for our entire country,” she said.
Obama also thanked the airmen and their families for their ongoing service and sacrifice, and left them with some motherly advice.
“I want you all to keep eating your vegetables and working very hard,” she said. “You all are the best that this country has to offer -- the very best.”
Little Rock was the first lady’s second stop on her four-state tour to celebrate the second anniversary of her “Let’s Move” campaign, intended to end child obesity within a generation.