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Military to fight fat in food upgrade

WASHINGTON - Hold the mystery meat: Military bases will soon be serving more fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dishes under the first program in 20 years to improve nutrition standards across the armed services.

Michelle Obama and Pentagon officials announced the effort yesterday during a visit to Little Rock Air Force Base in Arkansas, where the military has been experimenting with the idea through a pilot program designed to improve the quality and variety of foods served on base.

It is not just about giving the military a more svelte profile. “The Department of Defense considers obesity not only a national problem, but a national security issue,’’ said Dr. Jonathan Woodson, assistant secretary of defense for health affairs. “About a quarter of entry-level candidates are too overweight to actually either enter the military or sustain themselves through the first enlistment.’’

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The Pentagon spends an estimated $4.5 billion a year on food services, and $1.1 billion a year on medical care related to excess weight and obesity.

Under the Military Health System’s obesity and nutrition awareness effort, more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lower-fat entreés will be coming to the 1,100 service member dining halls in coming months.

Obama, who has been leading a campaign against childhood obesity, said the military effort would send a message to the whole nation. “When our service members make healthy eating a priority in their lives, the rest of us are more likely to make it a priority in our lives,’’ she said in a written statement.