NATICK, Mass (Feb. 10, 2015) -- The U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine launched a collaborative research study with Tufts University to assess the effectiveness of two weight-loss strategies.
Called "Healthy Families, Healthy Forces," this randomized trial will measure the effectiveness of two weight-loss programs for meaningful and sustainable weight loss in military families.
"This study targets dependents of active-duty military personnel and addresses the eating environment at the Soldier's home," Lt. Col. Asma Bukhari said. "Collaborating with Dr. (Susan) Roberts and Dr. (Sai Krupa) Das at Tufts University is a great opportunity for us to further investigate evidenced-based weight-loss strategies for our military beneficiaries."
The Tufts researchers bring over 30 years of research expertise in the weight loss arena.
Bukhari, a research dietitian with USARIEM's Military Nutrition Division, said this study is in line with the Army surgeon general's vision on addressing Soldiers' "life space" and moving from health care to health.
"Spouses of active-duty Soldiers may be the primary influence for eating behaviors, food selection and preparation at home. While we are aiming to see improved weight in the dependents directly participating in this study, our thought is that this program may also have a ripple effect on the active-duty family members -- the Soldier(s)," Bukhari said.
This two-year study, which is based on Tufts University's innovative "Healthy Weight for Living Program," began in January 2015 and features group classes that provide free education and support to help family members lose weight and prevent weight regain. These classes will be a fun way to learn menu planning, grocery shopping, self-monitoring of weight, diet and activity.
Bukhari said many times military families just do not know where to start when it comes to healthy eating. She said that quick weight-loss programs can often be expensive and frustrating, with no real long-term benefits. This program focuses on changing behaviors in an environment that connects military families to one another.
"We are trying to change a lifetime of habits for a healthier life," Bukhari said. "We approach weight loss as an opportunity for problem solving. So, for example, we have group sessions to help with recipes, explaining how to cook with healthy ingredients using recipes that are easy to make and that taste good. Participants will get to test some of the foods, and then they can go home and make them."
Bukhari said that if this study is successful in the Boston area, where it is currently taking place, she would like to scale it up to the rest of the military community nationwide so weight-loss programs are consistent on all installations. She would also like this program to help her and other Army registered dietitians understand the barriers to seeking a weight-loss program as families move from one duty station to the next, even though there is a desire to participate in them.
She said the interesting aspect of this study is an online capability if dependents have difficulties with in-person group sessions and follow-up.
"In surveys, dependents expressed a high need for a program like this," Bukhari said. "Even though the Army has programs, they vary from place to place, so progress is disrupted by deployments, PCSs, etc. We are taking all those factors into consideration. Through this study, we are exploring an intervention in the service members' home space to expand effective strategies that promote weight loss and weight maintenance for the military families no matter where they are."