FORT SILL, Okla. -- If you've ever wondered how your neighborhood and permanent change of duty station moves affect your children's diet, physical activity and health you're not alone.

To find answers to these questions, the Army is supporting a research study, Military Teenagers' Environments, Exercise and Nutrition Study, which is funded by the National Institutes of Health, Department of Health and Human Services, and conducted by the RAND Corporation.

Fort Sill is one of 12 installations in the United States selected to participate in the study.

M-TEENS will examine how the food and physical activity environments in military children's schools and neighborhoods influence their diet, physical activity, sedentary behaviors and body weight.

"This study will help us learn more about what factors influence the health and well-being of military children," said Ashlesha Datar, senior economist and M-TEENS study leader. "M-TEENS is unique because it follows military children and their families as they transition across installations over a two-year period."

According to Datar, by collecting data over time and geographic locations, "we can learn more about the changing environments faced by military children and their families and how those environments affect children's health behaviors and outcomes. This is a critical step in developing policies and programs designed to help military families stay healthy," she said.

M-TEENS randomly selects children of enlisted personnel at 12 installations in the continental U.S. who are 12 or 13 years old this spring, and attend public schools or Department of Defense-run schools serving the installation. Army personnel will receive an email and a letter in the mail inviting them to participate and providing instructions for how to begin the enrollment process. In each family, one parent or guardian and one child will provide information independently.

"The child will complete a short online survey and be measured for height, weight, percent body fat and waist circumference," said Datar. "The parent will also complete a short online survey. We will conduct baseline data collection [this] spring and a follow-up collection in the spring of 2014." Parents and children may either complete the surveys online or they may complete the surveys on hard-copy at the measurement location.

"Recent studies suggest 25 percent of military children are overweight. The Department of Defense recently formed its own childhood obesity working group to help improve health and nutrition of military families, and we have been selected to work with them," said Brenda Spencer-Ragland, Fort Sill Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation director.

FMWR personnel are working this with local schools, she said. "From a school perspective, selected students will complete an online survey during March and have face-to-face contact with the research team in mid-April (after school or on Saturday). The study should not disrupt their school day in any way."

Four school districts in the Fort Sill area were selected by the RAND Corporation to participate in an additional online survey, to be completed by a middle school principal or designated staff member. These districts are Lawton, Cache, Elgin and Bishop.

"This study complements other efforts by Fort Sill, our communities and the Fit Kids Coalition to combat childhood obesity. I am very proud to have the opportunity to be a part of this important research and will certainly keep the coalition in the loop as we have results we can share, and as we progress with our Healthy Base Initiative," Spencer-Ragland said.

Eligible families participate will receive details for completing the surveys online and the location and hours of the measurement visit. Light refreshments will be provided to participating families during the measurement visit.

"Every family has a unique experience and faces unique challenges," said Datar. "This is an opportunity to have your thoughts and opinions added to the collective voice. This study represents an important opportunity to improve our understanding of how food and physical activity environments influence children's health and well-being, particularly among military children. Our study will help policymakers understand how food and physical activity can be modified to promote healthy behaviors and reduce childhood weight gain and obesity in military families."

Participating parents will receive $25 in AAFES gift cards for completing a Web survey. Participating kids will receive a $10 AAFES gift card for completing a Web survey and for having their height, weight and body composition measured by study staff. Participating families will be entered into a raffle to win an iPad Mini at each installation.

For more information, call Brooke Wilson, Fort Sill Youth Center director, at 442-5959, or Susan Murray, school liaison officer, at 442-2130. Information is also available at http://mteens. rand.org or by contacting the study team at mteenshelp@rand.org or calling 800-836-4779.

Page last updated Thu March 21st, 2013 at 00:00