78 percent of Mississippi's young people may not be fit enough to serve in the United States Armed Forces. A group of retired generals believe healthier school meals are a way of ensuring the state's young adults are qualified for military duty.
Mississippi is now ranked 51st in the nation for the percentage of children who have been deemed ineligible to serve in U.S. military. That's according to a report by the Department of Defense that listed obesity as the state's leading, preventable cause of ineligibility among teens.
Erik Hearon is a retired Air Force Major General. He and about 500 other retired military leaders are calling on state and federal lawmakers to support healthy, nutritional schools meals.
"We're trying to bring to the attention the need to reenact and extend, by five years, the Child Nutrition Act," Hearon says. "That brings healthy foods to the children around the state. We don't have the luxury of taking people in the military who don't meet the standards of fitness."
The group, known as Mission: Readiness, points to the North Bolivar Consolidated School District as an example of a school system that successfully introduced more nutritional options into their daily meals. Rose Tate is the district's nutrition director.
"We established a garden in one of local elementary schools in order to allow the students to see where vegetables come from," says Tate. "I think it's proved successful because the child sees where the vegetable comes from. They're being taught and trained that vegetables are good and they're good for their body. The consumption of vegetables has increased."
In addition to obesity, lack of educational success and crime rates among young people were included in the list of contributing factors to the state's poor score in the D.O.D. report.