Study Finds Most Active-duty Military Not Getting Recommended Nutrition


Alexandria, Va. - June  25, 2013

MilitaryMore than 95 percent of active-duty military members are not getting the recommended servings of fruit, vegetables and whole grains according to a recent study published by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. The study, titled “Eating Patterns and Leisure-Time Exercise Among Active Duty Military Personnel: A Comparison to the Healthy People Objectives,” found that skipping breakfast and eating at restaurants are risk factors for poor nutrient intake and weight gain. 

Healthy People Guidelines at the time of the study were defined as eating one or more fruits, three or more vegetables, three or more servings of whole grains each day, and exercising at a moderate or vigorous intensity five or three days per week, respectively. While nearly 60 percent of respondents met the exercise guidelines only three percent said they ate the recommended servings of fruit, vegetables and whole grains. Individuals who reported recent weight gain were more likely to skip breakfast and eat at, or from, a restaurant at least two times per week. Military personnel who ate at or from restaurants or skipped breakfast at least two times per week are also significantly less likely to meet Healthy People Guidelines for food intake.

“The obesity epidemic has become a national security issue. About one in four potential recruits is too overweight to join the military,” said Samueli Institute President and CEO Wayne B. Jonas, MD, “These figures highlight how important it is to identify risk factors and come up with solutions to make sure Warfighters are fit enough to fight.”

The study report was written by Tracey J. Smith, PhD, RD; Laura E. Dotson, MS, MPH; Andrew J. Young, PhD; Alan White, PhD; Louise Hadden; Col. (Ret.) Gaston P. Bathalon, PhD; Col. LesLee Funderbunk, PhD, RD; and Bernadette P. Marriott, PhD. 

The Army, in particular, educates newly enlisted Soldiers about nutrition during basic combat training. Once Soldiers leave the basic training environment, they only attend nutrition education classes (ArmyMOVE!) if they do not meet body fat standards. 

“Nutrition education should emphasize the importance of eating fruits, vegetables and whole grains, and advise military personnel on how to integrate these foods into their daily diet. Additionally, education programs should deter military personnel from eating at or from restaurants,  and skipping meals, and provide practical tips for preparing healthy meals at home, and making healthy choices at military dining facilities and restaurants,” says Dr. Smith, Research Dietitian, Military Nutrition Division, U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine, and lead author of the study.

Dr. Smith also says that the Army is currently investigating ways to promote healthy eating in military dining facilities, for example, increasing the variety of fruits and vegetables.   

Self-reported data from 15,747 participants in the 2005 Department of Defense Health Related Behaviors Survey was analyzed.

Disclaimer: The opinions or assertions contained herein are the private views of the authors and should not be construed as official or reflecting the views of the Army or the Department of Defense.

About Samueli Institute 
Samueli Institute is a non-profit research organization supporting the scientific investigation of healing processes and their role in medicine and health care. Founded in 2001, the Institute is advancing the science of healing worldwide. Samueli Institute’s research domains include integrative medicine, optimal healing environments, the role of the mind in healing, behavioral medicine, health care policy, and military and veterans’ health care. Our mission is to create a flourishing society through the scientific exploration of wellness and whole-person healing. More information can be found at