In many minds, military service is linked with exercise, and being in great shape. The movies show us people in uniform running, carrying heavy equipment and doing endless push-ups. Boot camp is known for drills, running and obstacle courses. Military service requires a level of physical fitness that most young people in America do not have. Less than ten percent of American teenagers get the recommended amount of physical activity each day, and nearly one in five children are obese. This has military leaders worried.
More than one-quarter of American 17 to 24 year-olds are too overweight to qualify for military service. Aside from vision problems, obesity is the most common reason that young people are disqualified from military service. Military recruits who are obese or who enter the military in poor physical shape are also much more likely to get injured in training. Sixteen states produce Army recruits who have particularly low levels of physical fitness. Recruits from those states are also at the highest risk for training-related injuries. Treating those injuries is expensive for the military, and having unfit or injured service members means we are less prepared to respond to national security threats.
To help build healthy habits early, the military invests in high quality early care and education. Child care providers serving military families must meet standards for physical activity, nutrition, screen time and educational quality that often go above and beyond state licensing requirements. These high standards apply to on-base, military-operated child care facilities, as well as community-based providers that serve military families.
In partnership with state and local child care resource and referral networks, Child Care Aware® of America works with community-based child care providers to meet the military’s high standards. In most cases, this means working toward and achieving national accreditation through the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), National Association for Family Child Care (NAFCC) or another approved accrediting agency. Accredited child care programs often must meet national best practice standards, such as serving nutritious meals that align with the Child and Adult Care Food Program, eliminating sugary drinks and limiting screen time. In 2017, we partnered with and supported more than 10,000 providers in every state and territory to provide military families with access to high quality child care.
Our military recognizes that an investment in high quality child care is an investment in the people who will protect and defend this country in the future. Setting a high bar for nutrition, physical activity, and educational quality gives children from military families a strong start. Civilian child care should follow the military’s lead and create healthier, higher quality care for kids from all families. Today’s young children are not just future soldiers. They are tomorrow’s doctors, educators, and business leaders, and they all need to be “mission ready” for whatever path they choose.