07 July 2014

Military Looking to Serve Up More Healthy Choices

RALLYPOINT STAFF:

Many service members have joked about military food, saying it’s not the food-of-choice to say the least.  Defense Department officials have heard the concerns loud and clear.  They’re launching a comprehensive study for dining facilities, fast food, and vending machine options.

Officials are pushing for the study after early findings of a fairly new initiative that showed the lack of healthy food options on military installations.  As part of the DoD’s Healthy Base Initiative (HBI), a team looked into the food situation on military installations to provide a baseline on how much of a problem the food is.  The demonstration project launched 15 months ago at 14 sites, aimed at improving the health of troops, civilians, and family members.

As part of the HBI, officials rated the 14 installations in the demonstration project on their dining facilities, fast food eateries, commissaries, convenience stores, and vending machines.  The ratings were based on the DoD’s Military Nutrition Environment Assessment Tool, which helps measure accessibility to healthy food options.  On a 100-point scale, dining facilities scored 82 and commissaries 88. But fast food outlets rated only 38; convenience stores, 36; and vending machines, 17.

This is not only an issue with healthy food options, but also a food accessibility issue.  Many dining facilities have been closed or reduced hours because of budgetary constraints and cutbacks.  For example, Air Force officials reported some of their dining facilities are open only 35 to 40 hours a week.  On some installations, service members essentially live on vending machines, which got the lowest ratings.

Many participating site commanders were skeptical with the HBI providing the resources to implement changes.  But the project team has followed through with resources and has shown post officials how they can make potentially large changes with a relatively small amount of dollars.  For example, the Culinary Institute of America have visited Fort Meade’s dining facilities to demonstrate ways to cook healthier food that tastes good.

Some installations do successfully offer healthy food choices, but many are doing poorly.  The goal is for every military installation to have choices of healthy places to eat.  Officials are pulling together data to figure out what works and what doesn’t work, so they can put the right programs into place to help installations.  What are your suggestions for making healthy food choices more available to service members?  Do you have ideas on how to minimize costs?

Weigh in on the discussion here and connect within the military network.

Image Copyright: US Army

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