By: Annabelle Shaffer, Dietetics senior at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign
Military Members Nutritional Status
Obesity rates are on the rise in the overall United States population as well as the US military. In fact, 51.2% of all service members are overweight or obese.1 Not only does obesity negatively impact a soldier’s health, but it also increases medical spending and diminishes performance ability during missions.1 Additionally, the nationwide rise in obesity decreases the number of eligible military recruits based on body composition and body mass index (BMI).1
The majority of military members meet the Healthy People 2010 physical activity guidelines.2 However, less than 50% meet the US Dietary Guidelines and over 80% do not meet the Healthy People 2020 dietary guidelines.1,2 The current US Dietary Guidelines advocate for the daily intake of:3
- 2 cups of fruit
- 3-4 cups of vegetables
- 8-10 ounces of grains
- 3 cups of dairy
- 6 ounces of protein foods
Service members who followed a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, dairy, and fish had significantly higher scores on the Army Physical Fitness Test (AFPT) compared to those following a less nutrient-dense diet.2 The APFT evaluates soldiers on the number of sit-ups and push-ups completed in two minutes and their speed on a two-mile (3.2 km) run.4 To prepare for the physical rigors of the test, the Army recommends cardiovascular, strength, and flexibility training.4 Daily breakfast consumption also correlated with greater healthy eating scores and less unnecessary weight gain.1,6
Improving Military Members Nutritional Status
POMC researches three high-risk times for weight gain in military communities: pregnancy and early childhood, adolescence, and after the first tour of duty.5 Targeting multiple time points decreases the medical costs due to obesity and improves the health of future soldiers as children raised by military members are more likely to enlist.5
There are no specific guidelines in place for military members, however, the general healthy eating guidelines do apply with some modifications. As listed above, a healthy diet should consist of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, dairy, and protein. Due to strenuous physical activity, military members have increased protein and calorie needs. Additionally, a post-exercise snack can improve diet quality.2
Finally, eating out less frequently can improve dietary quality.2 Healthy snacks and meals can be prepped in advance and eaten on the go. Examples include Greek yogurt with berries and granola, whole wheat crackers with tuna, pre-cut veggies with hummus, and salads made with grilled chicken or fish.
- Shams-White M, Deuster P. Obesity Prevention in the Military. Curr Obes Rep. 2017;6(2):155-162. doi:10.1007/s13679-017-0258-7
- Purvis D, Lentino C, Jackson T, Murphy K, Deuster P. Nutrition as a Component of the Performance Triad: How Healthy Eating Behaviors Contribute to Soldier Performance and Military Readiness. US Army Med Dep J. 2013.
- A Closer Look at Current Intakes and Recommended Shifts – 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines – health.gov. Health.gov. https://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/guidelines/chapter-2/a-closer-look-at-current-intakes-and-recommended-shifts/. Published 2019. Accessed April 1, 2019.
- APFT Calculator, Standards and Exercise. goarmy.com. https://www.goarmy.com/soldier-life/fitness-and-nutrition/exercise.html. Published 2019. Accessed April 3, 2019.
- Spieker E, Sbrocco T, Theim K et al. Preventing Obesity in the Military Community (POMC): The Development of a Clinical Trials Research Network.Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2015;12(2):1174-1195. doi:10.3390/ijerph120201174
- Smith T, Dotson L, Young A et al. Eating Patterns and Leisure-Time Exercise among Active Duty Military Personnel: Comparison to the Healthy People Objectives. J Acad Nutr Diet. 2013;113(7):907-919. doi:10.1016/j.jand.2013.03.002