Health Care

Healthy Base Initiative ends, but concept continues

The Defense Department's Healthy Base Initiative is about to end, but the emphasis on health and wellness is merely making a transition.

The Healthy Base Initiative, a DoD demonstration project at 14 installations that tested ways to improve the health and wellness of troops, civilians and their families, is ending this month. However, the successful ideas that have emerged from the project will be made available next spring for other installation commands.

Since the test was launched in early 2013, the focus has been on tobacco-free living, active lifestyles, healthy eating and healthy community environments. Bases tested a variety of ideas and programs, some of which were started before the Healthy Base Initiative demonstration project, in order to identify effective ways to improve the overall health and wellness.

Examples included establishing indoor walking trails and farmers markets, making fruits and other healthy items more visible in convenience stores, and increasing the number of tobacco-free areas.

Officials won't know about the success of the ideas until all results are in and tallied. Base officials are submitting final data and completing an assessment survey by the end of August. They're measuring factors such as changes in the rates of obesity and overweight; change in the usage of tobacco; change in the percentage of total sales at commissaries that is fresh produce; the percentage change in designated tobacco areas; and the percentage of schools that have made positive changes.

The final phase of the analysis is expected to be completed in September, said DoD spokesman Air Force Maj. Ben Sakrisson. Lessons learned will be documented in a report this fall. A toolkit with resources and details on best practices will be available to installation commands next spring.

"While we don't have final data yet, HBI has made a lasting impact," said Army Col. Brian P. Foley, garrison commander at Fort Meade, Maryland, one of the 14 demonstration sites. "Our farmers market grows more popular each week, programs established by the commissary will continue educating people how to shop for healthy proteins, produce, dairy and grains, and we're all looking forward to establishing a 24/7 physical fitness facility.

"Final results won't be in until later this year, but it's plain to see HBI has helped more people think about proper diet and exercise."

The initiative is part of DoD's overarching Operation Live Well program, which supports the National Prevention Strategy of improving health and well-being using a prevention-oriented approach. Through Operation Live Well, DoD will continue "implementing and supporting demonstration of research that supports Total Force fitness," Sakrisson said.

The goal of HBI was to provide each installation with a full year of the demonstration. Information was not available about the cost of the initiative, but when it was launched, officials said $5 million had been budgeted to pay for site visits and develop a comprehensive report.

One of the early findings was a comparative scarcity of healthy food choices on military installations. Officials rated the food options on the 14 test sites using DoD's Military Nutrition Environment Assessment Tool, which helps health promotion professionals, commanding officers and others measure accessibility to healthy food options. On a 100-point scale, dining facilities scored 82 and commissaries 88. But fast food outlets rated 38; convenience stores, 36, and vending machines, 17.

As a result of those findings, officials ordered a comprehensive study of the food situation on military installations to provide a baseline assessment of that issue. Information was not available on the status of that study.

The demonstration project may be ending at the 14 locations, but the emphasis on healthy living isn't necessarily going away. At Defense Logistics Agency headquarters at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, the HBI team has transitioned to a new title — the Headquarters Complex Health and Fitness Council, which will continue the HBI projects, according to a news release from the agency.

Although the test did not officially extend to the agency's field activities, those activities used the headquarters' participation in HBI to put changes in place to make healthy living easier.

At DLA Disposition Services' Battle Creek, Michigan, headquarters, for example,  the fitness center saw a 20 percent increase in enrollment. Almost half of the installation's personnel now use the center's recreational activities each month, officials said.

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