United States Military

"An army marches on its stomach"  

-Napoleon Bonaparte

At least seven distinct phases of military nutrition have been documented. There is a rich history here, but where are we at today in terms of the nutritional well-being of our armed forces, the largest employer in the United States?

Where is the nutrition battle front?

"During the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, 1,500 American soldiers lost a limb in combat. During that same period, 1.5 million Americans lost a limb in surgical amputation due to Type 2 diabetes. That glaring fact is something we need to remember in the midst of current discussions around added sugar and food labeling." -Dean Schillinger, MD, SugarScience.Org

A National Threat?

“Obesity is a national and homeland security issue,” states Daniel O’Connor, Homeland Security expert, in an IRN blog post." Daniel gives the ominous warning that “The impact on National Security and homeland security is already large, negative and growing. If it goes unchecked, obesity will destroy us in a way that all the terrorist attacks, cyber hacks and nuclear weapons never could.”

As this infographic shows, obesity is taking a toll on the military:

Military Obesity

Graphic from "Obesity takes its toll on the military" in NBC News.

Unfit to fight in the U.S.

What are the implications of the obesity epidemic for homeland security?

"The implications appear clear, concise, and cogent. Obesity renders large amounts of the population unable to serve in the military and first responder community. Obesity and its effects costs hundreds of billions of dollars a year and is linked to chronic diseases.  Obesity renders those it impacts less capable, less cognitively adroit, and less likely to lead a productive life. Therefore, obesity is a national security issue." -Daniel O'Connor                                                   (Graphic from the Economist.Com)

There have been multiple states that have reported their ability to recruit and maintain their flow of military recruits is being impacted. And, once you get in to the military, nutrition doesn't necessarily get better.

A 2004 report estimated that 16 percent of all active-duty military are obese. Overweight troops are given a chance to shed the requisite pounds and a deadline to do it. Failure results in discharge—a fate that befell 21,513 enlisted troops between 2004 and 2009. During wartime, that average four percent annual loss of manpower creates hardship on the ground and the balance sheet. A 2007 report estimated that excess weight accounts for $105.6 million in annual productivity costs. According to the same report, training a replacement for each dismissed service member costs $50,000. - Excerpt from Chocolate Milk at Every Meal: Unhealthy mess halls are hurting our armed forces by Kristen Hinman

The food on military bases is a significant concern. Mess halls and canteens are loaded with junk food and high sugar content "energy" drinks and junk food stores next to military bases are pushing cheap, highly-refined, and nutritionally-sparse foodstuffs, and the occasional 500 pound cake. Chocolate milk is mandated at every Marine meal, and four types of soda must flow at lunch and dinner.

Another concern is that many who are active in military service are food insecure and rely on food stamps. A Department of Agriculture report in 2013 indicated that more than 5,000 of the 48 million Americans receiving Supplementary Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP = food stamps) listed their employment status as "active duty military". Lack of access to healthy food translates to poor nutrition and poor health outcomes.

Sonya Cable, an Army lieutenant colonel and dietitian who works for the command that trains recruits, began analyzing data showing that more than 60 percent of soldiers were non-deployable due to dental issues and were lacking in calcium and other vitamins that help the body prevent and recover from injuries. - Chocolate Milk at Every Meal

According to a September 2014 report released by Mission: Readiness, “Retreat is Not an Option,” more than 12 percent of active-duty service members were struggling with obesity in 2011—a 61 percent increase in less than ten years. -New battlefield: Fighting obesity in the military

Army Dentists are also fighting a major battle against sugar and dental disease.

From 2000 to 2008, the oral health of DOD recruits worsened. Young soldiers often don't pay attention to the sugar, calories, or caffeine in their drinks. The 2008 Tri-Service Oral Health Survey revealed that Army recruits have higher numbers of untreated cavities compared to other DOD recruits. A study at the largest Army installation showed that about one third of Soldiers develop new treatment needs every year. Army dentists are all too familiar with the rampant decay that results when a Soldier sips on sugary drinks throughout the day. Drinks that contain high amounts of sugar, caffeine and citrus flavors often cause extensive tooth decay, likely due to the combination of high sugar content and organic acids. -Col. Georgia Rogers, DMD, MPH, Consultant to the Surgeon General for Dental Public Health, Army Dentists Fight Uphill Battle Against Sugar

Just reading this makes our teeth hurt! Some parts of the military are looking at nutrition standards, but we have a long way to go. You can look at the nutrition content of Military MREs by clicking here.

Attention Civilians!

Here is where it gets really interesting. Apparently, the Military has had quite an influence on the food we eat! 

combat_ready_kitchen.jpgAccording to the new book by Anastacia Marx De Salcedo, Combat-Ready Kitchen: How The U.S. Military Shapes The Way You Eat, many of the packaged, processed foods we find in today's supermarkets started out as science experiments in an Army laboratory. The foodstuffs themselves, or the processes that went into making them, were originally intended to serve as combat rations for soldiers out in the battlefield. -Cheetos, Canned Foods, Deli Meat: How The U.S. Army Shapes Our Diet

U.S. soldiers had returned from WWI with a sweet tooth, thanks to candy included in their wartime rations. "This helped spread the candy habit beyond the women and children who had previously been assumed to be the main consumers," says historian April Merleaux in Tainted Treats.

Warning Signs Concerning the Nutrition and Health the Armed Services

Military Impact on U.S. Food System

  • Cheetos, Canned Foods, Deli Meat: How The U.S. Army Shapes Our Diet
  • How we went from beef on the hoof to mystery meat in a box

Dental decay from sugary beverages

  • http://www.army.mil/article/129445/Sweet_drinks_leading_dental_damage_determinant/
  • http://www.army.mil/article/128847

Diet and Military Performance

Energy Drinks and the Armed Forces

  • http://www.stripes.com/keep-unsafe-energy-drinks-off-bases-1.210473

U.S. Population Unfit to Fight

  • http://www.economist.com/news/united-states/21676778-failures-iraq-and-afghanistan-have-widened-gulf-between-most-americans-and-armed
  • http://www.defense.gov/news/newsarticle.aspx?id=118003
  • http://www.oneillinstituteblog.org/fighting-fat-can-learn-militarys-war-obesity/
  • http://www.cbsnews.com/news/a-third-of-young-adults-too-fat-to-join-military-report/

The IRN is actively reaching out to health professionals working in the armed services to share cutting edge science and to be a resource for efforts that focus on improving health through improved nutrition.

Hear Dr. Robert Lustig address this issue here ("Sugar is Killing our Military" on Democracy in America).

If this is an area of concern to you, please let us know. We need your help and your partnership.

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