US Army launches culinary offensive

GEORGIA - Pizzas, fizzy drinks and doughnuts are off the menu at some US Army bases as new recruits are being weaned of fast food for healthier fare, which the military believes will make them better soldiers.

The military's culinary revolution is on show at a mess hall at Fort Benning, where the young troops, assault rifles slung over their shoulders, file past a breakfast buffet in silence.

Green, yellow and red labels indicate the nutritional value of each dish. Grapes, apples and melon get a healthy green. Old staples like scrambled eggs are served, but with a yellow label, bacon is also yellow, though it's turkey instead of pork. Cheese receives a red code, while pastries and cakes are nowhere to be found.

The soldiers, most of them under 21, seem to embrace the healthier dishes. After an hour of exercise outdoors before dawn, their plates are piled high with fruit, yoghurt and granola.

Before they joined the military, they had fast food about four to seven times a week, said Lieutenant General Mark Hertling. "That's a lot of fat.

"In the mid-1990s, most US schools eliminated fitness education. About the same time, the technology explosion occurred with gaming, people playing with their hands instead of running and jumping," he said.

Obesity among 17- to 24-year-olds increased from 14 to 23percent in the past 10 years . And the junk food diet has narrowed the pool of potential military recruits. Even among those accepted, one in five still need to shed weight to meet the army's standards.

For lunch and dinner, French fries, pizzas and hot dogs have been scrapped. Sugary drinks are banished and soldiers have energy drinks.

This has grabbed the attention and praise of first lady Michelle Obama, who has tried to promote healthier habits amid an epidemic of obesity.

She paid a visit on Thursday to Fort Jackson in South Carolina, where Hertling briefed her on the army's new approach to food and fitness.

She was impressed, saying it could serve as a model for civilian society.

Hertling said the programme was not out to force soldiers to eat healthy foods. "You can't control lifestyle, you just try to influence it."

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