* First nutritional standards changes in 20 years
* 25 pct of young Americans too overweight to serve
* More fruit, vegetables to be available to military
(Updates with event, quotes, previous WASHINGTON)
By Deborah Charles
LITTLE ROCK, Arkansas, Feb 9 Obese
Americans in the military are a national security hazard and
U.S. first lady Michelle Obama wants to see that change.
Obama, who has led a healthy eating and fitness program for
children for two years, lent her voice on Thursday to the
military's efforts to overhaul the food it serves.
In an event at Little Rock Air Force Base, Obama announced a
new Pentagon obesity and nutritional awareness campaign that
will change nutrition standards across the services for the
first time in 20 years.
The changes will bring more fruits, vegetables, whole grains
and food choices that are lower in fat to 1.45 million troops a
day at all 1,100 American military dining facilities in the
"This isn't just a drop in the bucket - this is really a big
splash," Obama said.
"It's happening because our military leaders know it's not
just a diet issue, it's not just a health issue. This is truly a
national security issue," she said at the base, which already
has a pilot program to improve nutritional quality of food
available to service members and their families.
Obama cited a recent army study that says more than one
quarter of 17- to 24-year-olds are too overweight to serve in
the military. Active members of the military are also becoming
more overweight, a Pentagon official said, and that causes a
"The military is always taking the lead in terms of setting
standards," said Assistant U.S. Secretary of Defense for Health
Affairs Jonathan Woodson. "Now we have an opportunity to take
leadership ... as we face this epidemic of obesity."
Woodson said the U.S. military spends about $4.65 billion in
food services each year. It also spends an estimated $1.1
billion a year on medical care associated with excess weight and
To promote good choices, the military will redesign menus
and supply healthier foods in mess halls and in vending machines
and snack bars on military bases.
The first lady, who has been doing the rounds of television
talk shows and late-night comedy shows to promote her "Let's
Move" campaign to improve the nation's eating and exercise
habits, said changes by the Pentagon would send an important
message to the country.
"Simply put, this is America's entire military once again
stepping forward to lead by example," she told airmen at the
base after touring a dining facility.
Earlier in the day, Obama practiced what she preached as she
stood on a stage with Olympic athletes, politicians and
celebrity trainers to lead 14,000 arm-pumping Iowa children in
an energetic rendition of "The Interlude" - a dance made popular
at Northern Iowa University.
(Reporting by Deborah Charles; Editing by Xavier Briand)