"Many studies have tested the effect of dietary, informational, and environmental interventions on the eating behaviors of customers in civilian worksite and university cafeterias," says lead investigator Major Aaron Crombie, PhD, RD, Military Nutrition Division, US Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine, Natick, MA. "However, studies to date testing such interventions in military dining facilities (DFACs) have been very limited and inconclusive. Our study aimed to address that information gap." Nearly three-quarters of military personnel eat at least one meal a day in garrison dining facilities.
The study team from the US Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine and the Pennington Biomedical Research Center staged an intervention within five dining facilities on Fort Bragg, NC, that included the following actions consistent with 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans:
- Increased availability of fresh fruit
- Increased availability and variety of vegetables
- Increased availability of whole-grain foods
- Reduced availability of foods with high dietary fat and sugar
- Offering one main lean meat or vegetarian entrée at lunch and dinner with no added fat
- Placement of color-coded "Go for Green" nutritional information cards at the point of service
Over time, investigators observed that minimal changes in food service practices and menus in DFACs produced significant improvement in soldiers' nutritional intake, including decreases in fat. Customer satisfaction increased on four criteria - flavor and taste, available choices, low-fat food availability, and appropriate portion sizes. More favorable results were observed the longer the intervention lasted, indicating that the positive changes are sustainable over time.
Says Major Crombie, "The results of this study give credence to the idea that DFAC food service interventions can promote a healthy lifestyle and, in turn, optimize the health profile of warfighters. Although intakes of fruit, vegetables, and whole grains continue to be problematic, reductions in energy and fat intake may prove effective over the long term in combating the obesity problem."
While the study was performed in army dining facilities, it has implications for the entire military family, since many meals are not taken in the DFAC, but at home. Further, the study team advocates that results can be easily applied to civilian settings.