A new study from the Uniformed Services University (USU) will soon look at how best to promote healthy food choices in the military and help improve service member health and performance.
Dr. Jonathan Scott, assistant professor in the USU Department of Military and Emergency Medicine (MEM), specializes in nutrition and is currently leading a study on how choices can be made at on-base restaurants, vending operations, and convenience stores to encourage healthier food choices.
The year-long U.S. Marine Corps Non-appropriated Fund Facility Healthy Eating Pilot will utilize the Go for Green®/Fueled to Fight® labeling, originally designed by the Department of Defense to help military personnel quickly identify healthy food options, based on degree of food processing, nutrients, sugar, and fat.
The researchers will then collect information on food sales purchased with non-taxpayer dollars, and other data, to determine the effectiveness of interventions.
This collaborative effort with the Marine Corps will take place at Camp Lejeune Marine Base in N.C. Researchers hope to provide any lessons learned to other services and installations to enhance the overall military nutrition environment.
Scott says prior studies have only analyzed food purchased from tax dollar-funded sources like chow halls. However, he adds food purchased from non-appropriated fund (NAF) sources is something that has not been examined in detail before.
“At the end of the day, the non-appropriated spaces are there to make a profit,” Scott says. “They’re there to make money, they support the Morale, Welfare, and Recreation Programs on many installations.”
Scott says the study will begin a phased approach beginning with historical data.
“We’re interested in finding high traffic, high volume areas where the active duty Marine is the primary customer, and looking at locations that have certain proximity to the barracks…” Scott says. “Ultimately, three sites were identified, one as a restaurant, one as a vending operation, and one as a Marine Mart, which is a 24-hour convenience store.”
The items offered in the location will then be designated with the Go for Green®/Fueled to Fight® labeling, a stoplight color coating system that identifies “good, better, best choices” for foods based on their entire nutritional makeup.
“We know that sales are important to the businesses, so we don’t necessarily want to say, ‘these are bad, stay away,’ but rather we want to highlight the better option or increase the number of them that are offered.’” Scott says. “If in your entire Marine Mart, you only have five green coded items, out of a thousand foods and beverages that you sell, what if we now increase that by a certain percentage?”
Scott says an item’s location in the store may result in getting healthier alternatives noticed and adds pricing is also a significant factor.
“People are going to grab the energy drink if they’re two for $5 and the seltzer water, the flavored waters are $4 a piece — but what if we flip that?” Scott says. “…It’s ideal for us to develop this relationship with the managers, if you will, in those different spaces to understand what has worked in the past that they’ve tried, where have some of the challenges been, and to understand who their consumers are.”
Henry M Jackson Foundation for the Advancement of Military Medicine senior nutrition environment manager, and study researcher, Katie Kirkpatrick says Go for Green® and its effectiveness has been studied by the team since 2017.
“It’s been exclusively in the dining facilities, galleys — but there is an increased interest and an increased need to look outside that,” says Kirkpatrick. “We know that the dining facilities and galleys are underutilized by service members. There’s been a lot of research and reports showing that they still will pay out of pocket to purchase something else on the installation instead of using a meal card, which is already covered for them.”
This often comes down to convenience, something crucial to these locations.
“If you’re on shift work, if you’re on off hours, you might need something to eat at midnight and what’s going to be open for you? We still need to fuel those service members… even if it’s midnight,” says Kirkpatrick.
She says all the service branches have worked to try and address this issue using everything from food trucks to kiosks or even unmanned micro markets.
“The services are piloting different programs to just try to get the service members access and availability to better options,” says Kirkpatrick. “…So we’re trying to see what sort of interventions, if you will, are successful.”
According to Kirkpatrick, the average service member might not have the knowledge to readily find healthy options.
“So can we help them out a bit? Can we market it? Can we nudge them towards those better options?” says Kirkpatrick.
USU Military and Emergency Medicine nutritionist and exercise scientist Melissa Rittenhouse said the results of the study will ultimately help determine the next steps to improving the military nutrition environment.
“We’ll look at the interventions from this study and see what interventions seem to go over the best,” says Rittenhouse. “And then from there, we’ll figure out how to coordinate all of our efforts between the dining facilities and the NAF facilities and see how to improve the military nutrition environment and then what impact that has on the health, readiness, and performance of the service members.”
Scott adds the study is a collaborative effort and that the Marine Corps is leading the way.
“They approached us with this opportunity and have been very gracious in providing us with quite a bit of latitude as far as interventions, changes that we’re looking to make,” Scott says. “We’re really happy to have Marine Corps support and again, hope to bring some lessons learned to the other services, other installations (which can)… trickle down to the service member.”
To learn more about Go for Green®, visit https://www.hprc-online.org/nutrition/go-green and follow at https://www.facebook.com/GoForGreenG4G/.
This work, USU Researchers Examine Ways to Promote Healthier Food Choices for Service Members, by Ian Neligh, identified by DVIDS, must comply with the restrictions shown on https://www.dvidshub.net/about/copyright.