Recently, an article was published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics that looked at the energy intake of soldiers serving at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. The study utilized 10 military dining facilities on the base to determine, what, if any, effect the food service operation could have on energy intake at meals. Five of the dining facilities had no intervention, and the other five facilities had modest changes implemented at the serving stations. The changes included making fruit available at the dessert bar, an additional vegetable placed at the front of the entree line, a "stoplight" system for grading food items (choose often, choose sometimes, choose rarely) and making whole grains more available at sandwich lines.
Two follow ups were done, one at 6 months, and another 12 months after the changes were made. The researchers found that there were statistically significant decreases in the amount of total energy (calories) the soldiers consumed. Pretty cool, huh? What's even better -- 74% of soldiers at this particular base eat at least one meal per day at one of the military dining facilities.
It sounds simple enough. Make fruits and veggies more attractive, make sure people have access to fresh, healthy food, and they'll eat it. Right? Well, this is actually a pretty huge deal. Obesity in the general US population is at 48%, and the military obesity prevalence is 13% which is an increase from just 10 years ago. elevated body fat percentages for soldiers can impede promotion and award opportunities. Further, it can negatively impact military operational readiness. Scary stuff.
So I ask you, loyal readers, is obesity really a national security issue? This writer says yes. 27% of 17-24 year-olds are currently ineligible to serve as a result of overweight or obesity. Between 1995 and 2008, 140,000 recruits were unable to pass the entry physical for the military because of their weight. This number doesn't include persons who were turned away due to weight prior to the administration of the physical. An additional 1,200 solider are discharged each year for failure to maintain their weight, costing over $60 million annually in lost training costs -- that's $50,000 per recruit!
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-- Les, MS RD LD