Filed under: Alcohol
The purpose of the 2011 Department of Defense Health Related Behaviors Survey of Active Duty Military Personnel (HRB) is to assess the health practices of active-duty service members. Substance abuse, mental and physical health, and lifestyle choices are important matters, especially when you need to be at your best for the demands of military life. Certain areas of this study directly affect human performance, and results (as reported in the Executive Summary) show that health behaviors vary between services.
Physical Activity/Body composition
Here are some figures from the Physical Activity/Body Composition portion:
- Overall, service members have lower rates of obesity (as defined by BMI) compared to the general public.
- More than one-third of active-duty service members age 20 and older were considered to be at a healthy weight, which exceeds the Healthy People goal as well as civilian population estimates.
- 75% of active-duty members practiced moderate to vigorous physical activity in the 30 days prior to the survey, with Army and Navy personnel having the highest rates.
- Almost half of service members do strength training three or more days a week.
Physical health and fitness are key components to optimal fitness. While these numbers are encouraging, there is no doubt that a larger portion of the military should be at a healthy weight and fit enough to fight. Make fitness and weight management your priority for performance.
- Only 40% of all active-duty personnel surveyed get the recommended seven to eight hours of sleep per night.
Sleep is an important factor in recovery. Poor sleep habits can take a physical and mental toll on your health, your relationships, and your performance.
Tobacco and alcohol
One area where the military could improve is in the use of tobacco products and alcohol:
- Almost one-quarter of service members reported smoking a cigarette in the 30 days prior to taking the survey, which is higher than the civilian population and the Healthy People objective.
- Smokeless tobacco use is also prevalent in the military with 12.8% of all service members using smokeless tobacco in the month leading up to the survey.
- Rates of binge drinking were higher in the military than in the civilian population and more prevalent in the Marine Corps than in any other branch.
Tobacco in any form is detrimental to your health. If you’re thinking about quitting smoking or would like to talk to someone about your alcohol use, there are lots of resources and professionals that can help you achieve your goal.
Stress and mental health
After more than a decade of ongoing war, troops have—and will continue to experience—significant mental stress as a result of their service. In general, 5-20% of service members reported high rates of anxiety, depression, PTSD, and/or other mental health concerns.
- The most common military-related sources of stress were being away from family and friends and changes in workload but included financial problems and family members’ health problems.
- Women reported experiencing personal sources of stress more often than men did.
- Those who drank heavily were more likely to report problems with money and relationships.
Drinking, smoking, overeating, and even attempted suicide are all negative coping factors when dealing with stress. The survey found that the most effective methods of coping were planning to solve problems and talking with friends or family members. Find out how to use productive and effective methods for coping with stress and mental health.
Nutrition and dietary supplements
Being fueled to fight is an important component for anyone in the military. Proper nutrition requires consuming healthy—and avoiding bad and potentially harmful—foods and beverages.
- According to the survey, active-duty personnel eat too many unhealthy foods such as snacks, sweets, and sugary drinks and not enough of the recommended servings of fruits and vegetables.
- More than one-third of personnel reported daily dietary supplement use.
What you decide to put in your body now may affect your performance and your career later. For more information on nutrition for combat effectiveness, read Chapter 15 of the Warfighter Nutrition Guide. And make sure you know what you’re putting into your body. Dietary supplements are not subject to pre-market approval by the FDA, and there are many ingredients that may do more harm than help. You can learn more about dietary supplements at Operation Supplement Safety. And for more information about the Health Related Behavior Survey, visit TRICARE’s webpage.
Have you ever wondered what’s considered “too much to drink? According to the American Psychological Association, a “relatively harmless” or “moderate” amount is no more than two drinks a day for men and one for women and older people. One drink is defined as 12 ounces of beer, five ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of spirits.
However, anyone who continually drinks alcoholic beverages despite repeated negative consequences is guilty of “alcohol abuse.” Those who can’t stop drinking once they start or who have to drink more to get the same effect—a phenomenon called “developing tolerance”—are alcohol dependent. This pattern of drinking, known as alcoholism, damages a person’s health, relationships, and ability to work. However, there is a category known as the “functional alcoholic.” Such people remain highly functional, with their jobs, homes, and families intact, making the problem difficult to identify.
To see how your own drinking habits stack up, visit Afterdeployment.org for an assessment of whether you or someone you care about has a problem with alcohol. They offer resources and information on how to address alcohol-related issues. HPRC also provides more information on alcohol use and abuse, including service-specific programs.
Before you reach for a cold one, consider that drinking alcohol before, during, or after exercise can be detrimental to your performance, especially when consumed in excess. The effect of alcohol on skeletal muscles has been found to decrease strength output and can cause muscle cramps, pain, and loss of proprioception. Alcohol can also negatively affect your metabolism during exercise and contribute to dehydration. There is a shortage of data on the effects of alcohol on a recovering athlete, but some studies have shown that alcohol slows the recovery process by impacting muscle growth and repair systems. While current research has shown that alcohol in moderation can have other health benefits, it may be better to save that drink for when your physical performance is not on the line. There is also a growing body of research investigating the effects of combining alcohol with energy drinks. Many energy drinks contain substances and supplements that can interfere with normal alcohol metabolism and impair judgment. Be a conscious consumer and know what kinds of ingredients may be risky for your health.
Operation Supplement Safety (OPSS) has now been launched to answer many of your questions about Dietary Supplements. Visit the OPSS section of HPRC’s website now to learn more!