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Department of Defense: An Ally in the War Against Obesity

Health spending at DoD has reached $50 billion annually ? nearly 10% of the overall defense budget

By Lisel Loy and Leah Ralph

The BPC’s Nutrition and Physical Activity Initiative report, Lots to Lose: How America’s Health and Obesity Crisis Threatens our Economic Future, identifies 26 recommendations for federal, state and local governments and the private sector that hold the most promise for reducing health care costs associated with America’s declining physical health. Over the course of the coming weeks, BPC’s blog will digest the report and discuss the recommendations.

The Department of Defense’s (DoD) interest in keeping Americans healthy goes well beyond the usual public health concerns surrounding obesity and chronic disease. Employing 1.47 million military personnel and an additional one million in the reserves, DoD’s very ability to do its job?defending our nation?hinges on the health and wellbeing of its employees. Yet current health data indicates that the pool of potential recruits is more compromised and less fit than ever before.

According to the nonprofit group Mission: Readiness, nearly 27% of 17 to 24 year olds are too overweight to serve. An even more alarming 62% of new soldiers are not immediately deployable because of a significant dental issue, often associated with the consumption of sugary beverages and lack of adequate dental care. Among current personnel, the Navy loses an average of 2,000 trained recruits each year who fail to pass physical fitness tests. At a cost of $100,000 to $200,000 to train each service member, the Navy estimates they lose about $300 million in annual training investments ? investments that will have to be made again to train replacements for those who have been discharged.

Total health spending at DoD has reached $50 billion annually, or nearly 10% of the overall defense budget, increasingly competing with other defense priorities. The agency has seen its health care costs rise twice as fast as health care costs for the nation as a whole; unhealthy lifestyles, and obesity in particular, are undoubtedly significant contributors to this trend.

Given the impact of these health trends on military readiness, the department has increased its focus on nutrition and physical activity as tools to improve the overall health of servicemen and women. For example, the Army developed the Soldier Fueling Initiative, which establishes a feeding standard for all Initial Military Training (IMT). The program: sets standardized menus, recipes, preparation methods and portion sizes for use in all IMT dining facilities; engages in nutrition education to emphasize the link between diet, performance and long-term health; and clearly identifies healthier options to aid diner selection.

We commend DoD for its leadership on programs like the Solider Fueling Initiative, as well as efforts to better align military childcare centers with Let’s Move! Child Care standards, and invest in prevention, through its work with the National Prevention Council and otherwise. DoD employs and cares for millions of Americans, from active duty servicemen and women to their families, retirees and reservists. DoD’s leadership in this field has tremendous potential to pave the way for changes ? in food, employment, and health care ? across all sectors of our society.

We applaud DOD’s ongoing efforts. In our report, we make 12 recommendations designed to broaden the reach and strengthen the impact of DoD’s efforts:

Military Children

  • Ensure that all military hospitals follow the maternal care standards of the Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative.
  • Ensure DOD policies support worksite lactation programs.
  • Continue to implement Let’s Move! Child Care criteria in all military day care centers.
  • Improve nutrition and physical activity opportunities in military schools and non-military schools with high military populations.

Healthy Foods

  • Implement policies to increase service members’ access to and consumption of healthy foods at DOD facilities.
  • Expand the Soldier Fueling Initiative to all branches of service, basic and advanced training, and for enlisted officers and personnel.
  • Change restaurant options on military bases.
  • Promote healthy foods through the commissary network.
  • Adopt policies that support community gardens and farmers’ markets.

More On Base

  • Improve the built environment on military bases.
  • Join the Healthier Hospitals Initiative.
  • Encourage TRICARE to expand coverage of prevention services and reimburse non-clinical providers for preventive care.

For more detail on BPC’s DOD recommendations:

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2012-07-16 00:00:00

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