Modest changes in military dining facilities promoted healthier eating

The prevalence of obesity within the military is currently 13 percent. This rising epidemic, also rampant throughout the general population, could result in military career setbacks, negatively impact operational readiness, and jeopardize Department of Defense operations. To combat the epidemic, a team of researchers chose the military cafeteria as the venue to observe and evaluate eating behavior and the positive impact of modest changes to promote healthy eating and food selection. The results are captured in a new report published by the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

"Many studies have tested the effect of dietary, informational, and environmental interventions on the eating behaviors of customers in civilian worksite and university cafeterias," says lead investigator Major Aaron Crombie, PhD, RD, Military Nutrition Division, US Army Research Institute of , Natick, MA. "However, studies to date testing such interventions in military dining facilities (DFACs) have been very limited and inconclusive. Our study aimed to address that information gap." Nearly three-quarters of military personnel eat at least one meal a day in garrison dining facilities.

Modest changes in military dining facilities promoted healthier eating
This is digital photography of a study participant's tray before consuming the test meal. Digital photography was used as a tool for visual estimation of diner intakes. Credit: Pennington Biomedical Research Center

Modest changes in military dining facilities promoted healthier eating
This is a photo of a study participant's tray after consuming the test meal. Photo stills were compared to both before meal photos and photos of reference portions to determine nutritional intake. Credit: Pennington Biomedical Research Center

The study team from the US Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine and the Pennington Biomedical Research Center staged an intervention within five dining facilities on Fort Bragg, NC, that included the following actions consistent with 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans:

  • Increased availability of fresh fruit
  • Increased availability and variety of vegetables
  • Increased availability of whole-grain foods
  • Reduced availability of foods with high dietary fat and sugar
  • Offering one main lean meat or vegetarian entrée at lunch and dinner with no added fat
  • Placement of color-coded "Go for Green" nutritional information cards at the point of service

Five other dining facilities served as a control during the first half of this year-long study. Researchers collected data using a combination of survey questionnaires and digital photography of the diners' plates before and after meals were consumed.

Over time, investigators observed that minimal changes in food service practices and menus in DFACs produced significant improvement in soldiers' nutritional intake, including decreases in fat. Customer satisfaction increased on four criteria – flavor and taste, available choices, low-fat food availability, and appropriate portion sizes. More favorable results were observed the longer the intervention lasted, indicating that the positive changes are sustainable over time.

Says Major Crombie, "The results of this study give credence to the idea that DFAC food service interventions can promote a healthy lifestyle and, in turn, optimize the health profile of warfighters. Although intakes of fruit, vegetables, and whole grains continue to be problematic, reductions in energy and fat intake may prove effective over the long term in combating the obesity problem."

While the study was performed in army dining facilities, it has implications for the entire family, since many meals are not taken in the DFAC, but at home. Further, the study team advocates that results can be easily applied to civilian settings.

More information: Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, DOI: 10.1016/j.jand.2013.01.005

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Eating out can hurt heart health, expert warns

Mar 01, 2013

(HealthDay)—Eating out can lead to weight gain and increase people's risk for heart disease, diabetes and other serious health issues because popular menu items often have more fat, calories and saturated ...

Young adults need to make more time for healthy meals

Jan 06, 2009

As adolescents mature into young adults, increasing time constraints due to school or work can begin to impact eating habits in a negative way. In a study published in the January 2009 issue of the Journal of the American Di ...

Recommended for you

Gut bacteria promote obesity in mice

Sep 30, 2014

A species of gut bacteria called Clostridium ramosum, coupled with a high-fat diet, may cause animals to gain weight. The work is published this week in mBio, the online open-access journal of the American Society for Microbiol ...

An apple a day could keep obesity away

Sep 29, 2014

Scientists at Washington State University have concluded that nondigestible compounds in apples – specifically, Granny Smith apples – may help prevent disorders associated with obesity. The study, thought ...

Boosting purchasing power to lower obesity rates

Sep 25, 2014

In January, as one of the first major initiatives of the Academic Vision, the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity will move to UConn from Yale University. The move will allow Rudd faculty to expand their work and build ...

Note to young men: Fat doesn't pay

Sep 23, 2014

Men who are already obese as teenagers could grow up to earn up to 18 percent less than their peers of normal weight. So says Petter Lundborg of Lund University, Paul Nystedt of Jönköping University and ...

Waistlines of US adults continue to increase

Sep 16, 2014

The prevalence of abdominal obesity and average waist circumference increased among U.S. adults from 1999 to 2012, according to a study in the September 17 issue of JAMA.

User comments