Filed under: Health
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.
Warfighters involved in Operation Desert Storm to current missions in Iraq and Afghanistan may be experiencing what the Institute of Medicine is calling “Chronic Multisymptom Illness.” Research suggests that it is connected to toxins and contaminated environments in Middle East combat zones. Those who appear to be suffering from it have apparently unexplainable symptoms lasting at least six months in two or more of the following categories: fatigue, mood and cognition issues, musculoskeletal problems, gastrointestinal problems, respiratory difficulties, and neurologic issues. Dust storms and smoke from burn pits may be the vehicles for transporting toxic metals, bacteria, viruses, and perhaps the nerve gas sarin. Experts suggest that high temperatures and low humidity in the Middle East cause people to breathe more through their mouths than through their nose, carrying the pollutants deeper into the lungs, especially during rigorous physical activity. New legislation has recently set up burn pit registries to track the medical histories of those who may have been exposed to smoke from the practice of burning waste (human, plastic bottles, etc.) using jet fuel. With the rise of unexplained medical conditions among younger veterans of recent conflicts, researchers are looking for more conclusive evidence as to what exactly is causing this chronic illness. In the meantime, the IOM has just published a report with extensive information and recommendations for treatment.
The trend of adding caffeine to new food products has led the FDA to take another look at caffeine regulations. In particular, they have decided to look into caffeine being added to foods, as reported in this Consumer Update. The FDA approved the addition of caffeine to colas (specifically) in the 1950s, but the addition of caffeine to foods and beverages popular with children and adolescents, such as waffles, chewing gum, and energy drinks, has prompted them to take a fresh look at the possible impact of caffeine on children and adolescents’ health.
Currently, the FDA has not set a safe amount of daily caffeine consumption for children. Medical professionals discourage any caffeine consumption and state that children and teens should take in no more than 100 mg of caffeine per day. To put that in perspective, an eight-ounce cup of coffee typically contains about 100 mg (or more), and the most popular caffeine-containing sodas contain around 30 to 55 mg in a 12-ounce can (a 12-ounce soda cannot contain more than 68 mg of caffeine). Not knowing how much caffeine and other stimulants are contained in the drinks and foods children eat is a concern. In the meantime, for a better understanding of the effects of caffeine, read this article from the American Academy of Pediatrics.
According to the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, solid fats and added sugars (SoFAS) contribute nearly one-third of the average person’s daily calories!
Solid fats, as the name implies, are solid at room temperature; they include both saturated and trans fats. They tend to raise “bad” (LDL) cholesterol, increasing your risk for heart disease. Sources of solid fats include butter, cheese, meats, and foods made with these products, such as cookies, pizza, burgers, and fried foods. For more information, read how to tell the difference between solid fats and oils.
Added sugars can contribute to weight gain and tooth decay. Although some foods such as fruit and milk contain naturally occurring sugars, added sugars are usually found in processed foods such as sodas, sports or energy drinks, candy, and most dessert items. It can be hard to identify added sugars on food labels, but you can learn how to recognize hidden sources of sugar.
Foods containing SoFAS are often high in calories but don’t provide many important nutrients such as vitamins, minerals, or fiber. Fortunately, it’s easy to cut back on SoFAS by eating a diet rich in whole foods such fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, and lean sources of protein, and following the MyPlate guidelines.
Synthetic drugs are laboratory-made substances marketed and sold as alternatives to illegal drugs such as marijuana, cocaine, and amphetamines. Although most are advertised as “all-natural,” they may have serious health effects and violate the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). HPRC takes a look at two examples of synthetic drugs, their legal status, and how they can affect service members in “HPRC’s Answer: Synthetic Drugs of Abuse.”
The annual Army “Strong B.A.N.D.S.” campaign is set to launch for another year beginning in May. Strong B.A.N.D.S. promotes physical fitness, nutrition, optimal health, and resilience by focusing on Balance, Activity, Nutrition, Determination, and Strength—forming the acronym B.A.N.D.S. The campaign has activities at numerous garrisons to help educate soldiers, their families, and civilians. Strong B.A.N.D.S. is a campaign of the U.S. Army Installation Management Command Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation directorate and is “designed to energize and inspire community members to live a healthy lifestyle.”
Check out the website for detailed information and to see if there is a Strong B.A.N.D.S. activity near you.
Hearing is usually one of those abilities we take for granted—until we lose it. Make sure your children know the importance of hearing, and help them by encouraging healthy hearing habits. Just like helping them make healthy food choices or exercise, you can help your kids learn healthy hearing habits. The Department of Defense has a Hearing Center of Excellence that does research and provides educational information on the importance of hearing for optimal performance. Last month they wrote a blog on nurturing healthy hearing habits in your children that offers the following three tips:
- Talk to children about the importance of protecting their hearing in their everyday lives. Awareness of noise pollution is the first step towards a lifetime of healthy hearing.
- Make it fun. HCE has links to online tools such as an interactive sound ruler, games, and videos. (The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also has a fun “Noise Meter.”)
- Make it a family affair; discuss how you deal with noise and demonstrate what you do to protect your own hearing, such as turning down the sound on video games and MP3 players. Your children will follow your example.
If you instill good hearing habits in your children now, they will be ready as adults to cope with the kinds of noise pollution that have been leading to hearing loss among Warfighters.
Vegetarians eat a plant-based diet that excludes meat, poultry, and fish. A well-planned vegetarian diet can meet all your nutritional needs, but you have to take special care to ensure you don’t fall short on a few key nutrients such as protein, vitamins, and minerals. Following a vegetarian diet while in the military can be an especially challenging practice, but you can stay healthy while doing so by following the information presented in HPRC’s InfoReveal on vegetarian diets.
Both deer velvet and IGF-1 have been in the news lately, and HPRC has received many questions about what these are and whether they improve athletic performance. Does deer velvet contain IGF-1? Read this OPSS FAQ about deer velvet to find out. To learn what IGF-1 is and whether it is banned in the military, read more in the OPSS FAQ about IGF-1. Be sure to check back often, as we add answers to other questions about ingredients in performance and weight-loss supplements and how to choose supplements safely.
March is National Nutrition Month, a month-long campaign sponsored by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND) to promote healthy eating and physical activity. This year’s theme—“Eat Right, Your Way”—is aimed at helping people find personalized ways to meet the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The theme acknowledges the fact that although food choices are influenced by culture, lifestyle, and personal preferences, you can still develop healthy eating habits—your way! AND’s website provides lots of great tips, tools, and resources to help you get started.