11/12/2012 02:42 pm ET Updated Jan 12, 2013

Moms to Military: Thanks for Fighting for Children's Health

Today, we remember the many veterans who have sacrificed for our country and those who are currently serving far away from family, friends and the comforts of home. Such service can never be repaid. We also extend our thanks to the senior retired military leaders who have joined moms in protecting the health and wellness of the nation's youth in another way -- by working to reverse the childhood obesity epidemic.

Why are military leaders concerned about childhood obesity? It's a shocking fact that approximately one in four young adults is too overweight to join the military. And according to a recent report, the U.S. Department of Defense alone spends an estimated $1 billion per year for medical care associated with weight-related health problems.

That's why Mission: Readiness, a nonpartisan national security organization of senior military leaders, has joined parents and nutritionists in supporting healthier school meals and new efforts to remove junk food from school. Norman Seip, Lieutenant General, U.S. Air Force (Retired) and a member of the Executive Advisory Council of Mission: Readiness, issued the following statement on behalf of Mission: Readiness in support of the updated school meal standards that have gone into effect this fall:

Schools should not undermine parents' efforts to instill better eating habits in their children. Today, hundreds of retired generals and admirals stand alongside nutritionists and parents across America who believe that children deserve to eat healthful meals at school based on sound dietary science, not politics or special interests.

We agree! And, together, we're making headway. In 2010, the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act was enacted to provide healthier foods and beverages in schools. The law charged the USDA with updating nutrition standards for the National School Breakfast and National School Lunch programs. Already this fall, kids are seeing more whole grains, fruits and vegetables in their school cafeterias.

Access to healthy foods in our schools make a world of difference in the lives of our children. A study by the research and policy group Bridging the Gap found that overweight or obese 5th graders who lived in states with laws that restrict the sale of unhealthy snacks and beverages in schools are less likely to remain overweight or obese by the 8th grade compared to their peers in states without these laws.

This makes sense. Children spend a significant part of their day in school. In fact, children consume 35 percent to 50 percent of their total daily calories in school, according to a study by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The new nutritional standards for school lunches are a huge step in the right direction.

But there is more work to do.

According to Mission: Readiness' report, Still Too Fat to Fight -- a follow-up to Too Fat to Fight, students in the U.S. consume almost 400 billion calories from junk food sold at schools each year. If the calories were converted to candy bars, this would equal nearly two billion bars and weigh more than the aircraft carrier Midway.

Some states have already started to change this. A few years ago, the California state legislature put in place some of the strongest guidelines in the country on snack food sold in schools. A new study shows that kids in California are cutting tens of thousands of calories from their diets per year, one bag of chips or bottle of soda at a time. By eliminating 158 calories a day, California kids can lose 15 pounds per student per year.

That's why moms and dads across the country are now hoping that the USDA soon will issue national nutritional guidelines on food sold in vending machines and à la carte lines. It's no surprise that a study by Kids' Safe & Healthful Foods Project, a joint project of the Pew Charitable Trusts and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation shows that parents nationwide broadly support the creation of strong guidelines.

Military leaders and moms concur: No child should be prevented from attaining his or her dream because they are overweight or obese.