LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - Hold the mystery meat: Military mess halls soon will be serving more fruits, vegetables and low-fat dishes under the first program in 20 years to improve nutrition standards across the armed services.
First lady Michelle Obama and Pentagon officials announced the effort Thursday during a visit to Little Rock Air Force Base in Arkansas, where the military has been experimenting with ways to improve the quality and variety of foods served on base. The first lady toured a gleaming cafeteria line, then announced the program in a dining hall filled with service members whose plates were overflowing with salad greens, broccoli and whole grains.
"You all look really good, really fit," she told the airmen. "Thank you for eating your vegetables. We need you strong."
She stressed it's not just about giving members of the armed services a more svelte profile: There are big national security and budget implications.
About a quarter of entry-level candidates for the military are too overweight to serve or to make it through their first enlistment, according to the Pentagon. And the Defense Department spends $1.1 billion a year on medical care related to excess weight and obesity.
Under the Military Health System's new obesity and nutrition awareness campaign, more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meats and lower-fat entries will be coming to the 1,100 service member dining halls across the United States in coming months. Healthier choices will be turning up in base schools, vending machines and snack bars, too, affecting more than 1.5 million service members.