Healthy Base Initiative takes first steps to create healthier environments for military and civilian personnel and their families.
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More than twenty congressional and administration spouses were briefed on March 12 by the Department of Defense (DoD) on the Healthy Base Initiative(HBI) launched in 2013 to help our troops develop healthier habits. The initiative, currently underway on 14 pilot bases, reaches across the branches of the military. The primary focus, much like our own, is on prevention – especially in the areas of obesity and tobacco use.
The briefing, held in the Veterans Affairs committee room, was presented byChuck Milam, Principal Director of Military Community and Family Policy;Brian Borda, Strategy and Innovation Directorate of Military Community and Family Policy and HBI Program Manager; and Colonel Brian Fooley, Garrison Commander, Fort Meade, Md. The panel began with an overview by Mr. Milam of research showing the impacts of obesity and tobacco use on our troops, expected cost and health benefits of successfully address those problems, and the resulting Healthy Base Initiative. Obesity has become a threat to troop readiness and therefore national security, limiting our ability to recruit and retain fit soldiers. As we know, this problem is not limited to the military but is a nationwide concern that has been linked to increases in a myriad of health problems including cancer, diabetes and heart attacks. Curbing tobacco use is another major challenge: 40% of enlisted personnel smoke and 40% of those smokers began smoking when on active duty. Smoking is the biggest risk factor for lung cancer, which kills more people in the U.S. each year than any other cancer. Each year obesity and tobacco use add over $3 billion to the DoD budget due to loss duty days and health care costs. HBI was launched to help make changes in military culture and prioritize the health of our troops.
Following Mr. Milam’s remarks, COL Fooley discussed how HBI is currently implemented on base at Fort Meade, Md., noting that each installation will translate the directive differently factoring the needs and resources of its community. At Fort Meade, the program has created changes in menu offerings, a 24-hour fitness center, tobacco-free areas and a bike lane that offers an easily available exercise opportunity for military and civilian personnel. Family members are also a priority at Fort Meade. Base leaders are working with local schools to offer nutritional programs and physical activity opportunities for children. A farmers market to offer a wider range of fresh fruits and vegetables is planned for later this year.
Congressional spouses enthusiastically engaged in a robust Q&A session following the presentation. The conversation delved into the culture of smoking that often exists across the branches and how to break it. Concerns were raised incentives – financial and social – that encourage and support smokers and those who chew tobacco. Tough questions were asked. Among the spouses participating were a primary care physician and mental health professional; Lilibet Hagel (wife of Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel) and Marcia Carlucci (wife of former Secretary of Defense Frank Carlucci) were also in attendance.
The Congressional Families program and spouses look forward to continuing our support for the Healthy Base Initiative and learning more as findings from the pilot program are made compiled and analyzed.