Army researches military retirees in ongoing weight-loss study

By Ms. Mallory Roussel (USARIEM)February 10, 2016

Army researches military retirees in ongoing weight-loss study
(Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

NATICK, Mass. (Feb. 5, 2016) -- Making healthy New Year's resolutions is easy. Following them is hard. This year for military retirees, however, there's a new option for learning healthier lifestyles.

Researchers from the U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine, or USARIEM, and Tufts University launched a weight-loss program in 2015 for adult dependents of active-duty military personnel. They are now researching adult dependents of retirees for their study.

The randomized trial, called Healthy Families, Healthy Forces, or HF2, measures the effectiveness of two weight-loss programs. Lt. Col. Asma Bukhari said the study targets retirees and dependents and "addresses the eating environment at the Soldier's home."

"Collaborating with Dr. Susan B. Roberts and Dr. Sai Krupa Das at Tufts University is a great opportunity for us to further investigate evidence-based weight-loss strategies for our military beneficiaries," Bukhari said.

The Tufts researchers bring more than 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 Army Medicine's vision on addressing Soldier "life space" and moving from a health care system to a system of health.

"Healthy weight management continues to be a top health concern for Americans," Bukhari said. "This is an opportunity for military retirees and their families to get support for healthy eating and weight management. We also hope the study will provide important insights for the future health of all military families."

The HF2 study originally targeted Hanscom Air Force Base and U.S. Coast Guard First District military families. Over the last year, participation has expanded to include retirees on Fort Devens, Massachusetts, Navy Recruiting District New England, the U.S. Coast Guard Air Station Cape Cod and Fort Drum, New York. Bukhari said widening the targeted group has the advantage that the results will be more "broadly relevant."

"We are finding military personnel and their families have challenges that can influence their ability to manage their weight," Bukhari said. "Permanent change of station, moves, training requirements and deployments are common issues military families face, which are rare in the civilian population. On the other hand, while military retirees are older and may have more health issues, they tend to be more stable and move around less."

The two-year study compares current best dieting practices with Tuft's innovative Healthy Weight for Living Program, which recommends eating a diet rich in protein, dietary fiber, low glycemic index carbohydrates and low-calorie foods. Yet HF2 offers more than weight-loss strategies. It teaches participants how to change lifestyle habits sustainably for long-term benefits.

HF2 features group support classes and free education that teach fun ways to plan menus, shop for groceries and self-monitor weight, diet and activity.

"We approach weight loss as an opportunity for problem-solving," Bukhari said. "We have group sessions to encourage a fun sense of community and help volunteers learn healthy options for recipes, no-cook meals, eating out and holiday dishes."

Bukhari said many times people do not know where to start when it comes to healthy eating. She said quick weight-loss programs can often be expensive and frustrating, with no real long-term benefits. HF2 focuses on changing behaviors that could also feed into USARIEM's mission to develop programs enabling warfighter health-readiness.

"Military retiree health is the end result of a healthy lifestyle introduced and promoted while serving the military," Bukhari said. "We believe, by including military retirees in the study population, we will be able to further successful weight management in all military families."

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