MHS partners with other agencies to build healthy diets, peak warfighters
The Defense Commissary Association (DeCA) Nutrition Guide Program places nutritional data on store shelves with food products so shoppers can make more informed choices.
THe unique demands of a job in the military require service members to be at optimal physical and mental performance levels. DoD recognizes that what a service member eats contributes to mission success and life-long health.
“Just like with athletes, we want to know how we can optimize overall performance,” said Army Col. Joanna Reagan, a registered dietitian and the chair of the Department of Defense (DoD) Food and Nutrition Subcommittee. “If you’re not eating healthy, getting enough sleep and enough activity in your life, you can’t perform, because those things are all connected.”
The government’s latest Dietary Guidelines raise awareness about the amount of sugar in foods and provide more information on fat content, including which fats are healthy. Reagan advised avoiding trans fats and watching out for hidden sugars in foods. The benchmark for fat in the diet is 30 percent of total caloric intake, and limiting unhealthy saturated fat within that overall number. Reagan said the push remains to get people to eat fruits and vegetables.
“The goal is to fill half of the plate with fruits and vegetables each day,” she said. “We are encouraging easy grab ’n go options, with tips to achieve this goal. It’s not easy, but by making small changes, it is possible.”
She pointed to several healthy food initiatives in the military, including Go for Green, a program to optimize the performance, readiness, and health of service members by promoting nutritious food and beverage choices. “We want healthy food to be the easy choice,” said Reagan.
Partners in these efforts include DoD organizations running dining facilities and the Defense Commissary Agency (DeCA), the parent organization for grocery stores on military installations.
"The commissary has the potential to follow a service member and his or her family all the way through a career and on into retirement,” said Deborah Harris, DeCA's dietitian. “We can have a big impact on influencing dietary habits by providing nutrition and health promotion education right in the stores. DeCA is committed to forming and nourishing robust partnerships with DoD health and wellness stakeholders, and helping them assure that health and wellness is targeted where people eat, work, play and shop.”
Harris said DeCA has increased its presence on social media platforms, such as Facebook and Twitter, and enhanced its website. DeCA also uses featured sales fliers for in-store shopping to promote healthy recipes and habits. These efforts include DeCA’s Thinking Outside the Box, a weekly message that features nutrient-dense foods on sale at the commissary and promotes increased fresh fruit and vegetable consumption that pair up with those nutrient-dense items. In the end, people can learn how to turn their healthier selection of groceries into cost-effective, time-saving, healthy meals.
“It’s geared toward the novice cook to build skills,” said Harris. “After the sale promotion date, it’s stripped of any brand-specific information so customers can use the information long after the sale ends. Clinics and those in command can also use this to teach patients and troops how to eat healthier. Using these meal solutions, service members can plan weekly menus and develop a shopping list.”
In January, DeCA started offering the Nutrition Guide Program, with information placed next to items on store shelves. The goal is to provide nutrition data about the products as well as to identify high-performance, nutritionally dense items that have a “Thumbs-up” icon on their tag. DeCA coordinates their education efforts about nutrition with the military’s health and wellness campaign encouraging physical activity – at least 10,000 steps a day with the right types of vigorous exercise – and eight hours of sleep a night, among other tips.
“We have a wonderful relationship with DeCA, particularly the new labeling information that is going out to shoppers,” said Reagan, who noted that very visible information presented on store shelves can lead to better choices.
“It’s not just some messaging campaign,” said Reagan. “It needs to be something to believe in and lead to actual healthy behaviors that carry well into the future.”