WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Oct. 16, 2015) -- Approaching their duties like fervent evangelists, a half dozen fired-up proponents of clean living and smart nutrition choices commanded the stage here, Oct. 13, at the Association of the U.S. Army's Annual Meeting and Exposition.

The eclectic group, comprised of credentialed health professionals throughout the Army, Guard and U.S. Public Health Service, or USPHS, appeared at the AUSA's robust Family Forum in a fast-paced session that went well beyond "Food Pyramid 101."

"We want the whole base community involved in providing accessible, appropriate nutrition to troops and their families," said Col. Deydre S. Tyhen of the Army Surgeon General's office. "That means the commissary, the Exchange, the chow hall and key agencies 'out in town.'"

Capt. Kimberly Elenberg, who heads USPHS' Medical Readiness and Training Directorate, told attendees that "commissaries are our nation's second largest purchaser of food behind Wal-Mart," so she is keenly invested in helping them leverage their potential to shape the nutrition environment.

Tyhen chimed in, "DOD has a nutrition committee -- and that committee is working with AAFES (Army Air Force Exchange Service) to influence how our contracts are let for base vending machines and commercial eateries."

"For example, can we not stipulate the percentage of healthy food choices offered at an installation fast food place or vending machine?" she asked. "And what about more Farmers' Markets? They have been very popular at some installations."

On inspection trips, the colonel said that the Army is focused on what improvements might be made "right now." She told of a visit to one East Coast installation where, based on troop input, the Dining Facility immediately switched its lettuce choices from iceberg to spinach and romaine.

"We received a standing ovation during the outbrief," she said.

Another factor that experts like Tyhen and Elenberg don't overlook is individual financial cost. American consumers have complained for years that eating healthy is more expensive, but Elenberg said it is troubling to see especially young mothers, "making choices based on cost."

Recent decreases in the cost of living allowance overseas forced some new moms to choose whole milk over formula. "Part of that is education," said Elenberg, who also examines the reliability and affordability of Internet services on or near military bases.

She stressed that "there is more power at the local level than is often realized" and she appealed to the audience of mostly Army wives to mentor their younger peers, who find themselves away from home for the first time without the ready advice they might get from a mother or grandmother.

In addition to offering one-on-one advice and friendship, she suggested that more experienced spouses could "work with your commissaries."

"The store manager would welcome the opportunity to host classes on topics like 'Shopping Matters,' 'Cooking Matters,' or 'How to Cook on a Budget,'" Elenberg said.

Other members of the panel included Amy Cowbell and moderator Laura Mitvalsky of the Army's Public Health Command; Maj. Derek Mydlarz, Preventive Medicine Chief for the Army National Guard; and Army nutritionist Lt. Col. Chad Koenig.