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Children’s Program Aims to Curb Obesity, Boost Nutrition

By Amaani Lyle DoD News, Defense Media Activity

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WASHINGTON, April 22, 2015 — As concerns persist over ever-rising obesity levels among American children, the Defense Department will bolster its Healthy Children programs to weave fitness, nutrition and tobacco-free living into military children’s curriculum, a Pentagon official told DoD News.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, obesity rates in the United States have tripled since 1980, and these statistics portend possible jeopardy to the readiness of future service members, said Barbara Thompson, director of DoD’s Office of Family Readiness Policy, during a DoD News interview on the observance of April as the Month of the Military Child.

“We have a moral imperative … and a national security imperative to make sure our children are healthy and active,” Thompson said. “We know that many [military family] children -- in fact, over 50 percent -- either enter the military or seriously consider entering the military when they grow up, so we want them to be as healthy and as physically fit as possible.”

Awareness of Health Risks

In the face of health risks such as obesity and poor nutrition, building awareness is the first step toward mitigating them, Thompson said.

“We normally see children as being active and eating healthy, but … through marketing and busy lifestyles, children are not getting the healthy nutrition and opportunities for physical play that they need,” she said. “Children are bombarded with messages on foods that are high in fat, high in sugar and [generally] not good for them.”

So whether students are in child development or after-school programs, DoD initiatives embed healthy eating, cooking, and daily physical activity tips into the lesson plans in hopes such behavior will carry over into the home environment, Thompson said.

“Children’s parents are their most important teachers and models,” she added, “so we don’t want to have a different set of rules at home.”

Also embedded into the department’s military child curriculum is DoD’s Operation Live Well, Thompson said, adding that the program examines holistically healthy living through tobacco cessation, nutrition and physical activities.

Eating Healthy

Thompson also cited the nationally recognized “5-2-1-0” child nutrition guideline developed by the “Let’s Go!” organization. It calls for five servings of fruits or vegetables every day, two hours or less of computer and television screen time, one hour of physical activity and zero sweetened beverages.

“If we can keep that on our radar screen as a mantra and tailor our lifestyle across the 5-2-1-0 message, our children will be healthy and active,” she said.

Thompson referenced the health and wellness coaching element in the popular online resource, Military OneSource.
“You actually get somebody who’s in your corner, providing the motivation for you to stay in tune with your goals,” she said, “whether it’s with nutrition or physical activity, so that you’re not alone in trying to change your behaviors.”

Defense Department officials want to keep military children fit and healthy, Thompson said, both in their own interest and as a concern about potential future service members who may fail to meet required physical fitness standards.

“Less than 25 percent of our youth age 17 to 24 can enter the military, primarily due to physical requirements,” Thompson said.

(Follow Amaani Lyle on Twitter: @LyleDoDNews)