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INITIAL THOUGHTS:

November 2013
Healthy Base ...

Obesity and tobacco use among U.S. military members add over $3 billion per year to the Department of Defense (DoD) budget in healthcare costs and lost duty days, according to the latest reports from DoD. And failure to meet weight standards is a leading cause of involuntary separation from the military, while obesity in the civilian community is limiting DoD's ability to recruit qualified personnel. Today, more than a third of adult Americans are obese and a fourth of potential new recruits are unqualified due to their weight.

The numbers are sobering. And with all the bickering in Washington these days over budgets — and finding areas to save money — reducing future healthcare expenditures isn't a bad place to start. Investing in the future health of the nation is going to take some vision and resolve, as well as a sustained, preventative approach that in the end could not only save billions in healthcare costs, but also possibly get America trending toward healthy, preventing future medical costs.

But, as usual, funding issues threaten to derail and delay promising efforts already in motion, such as the Healthy Base Initiative (HBI), which was launched this year by the Office of Military Community and Family Policy, Office of the Secretary of Defense. This potentially game-changing initiative is currently being piloted at 14 sites, including 12 military installations, with the overall goal of providing environments that encourage active lifestyles, good nutrition and tobacco-free living. The HBI is part of Operation Live Well, the DoD program that supports the National Prevention Strategy of improving Americans' health and wellbeing through a prevention-oriented approach that involves service members and their families.

Morale, Welfare and Recreation (MWR) and fitness leaders have already begun to incorporate elements of the HBI into programming, and into the way they are building and planning facilities and spaces for the future. One need look no further than this issue of GRF to see a shining example in MCAS Miramar, Calif., which over the past few years has revitalized its outdoor facilities in and around Mills Park, creating new walking paths and exercise equipment for families and retirees, an outdoor High Intensity Tactical Training (HITT) area for Marines, as well as new tennis courts and playgrounds and other family-focused programs and activities. The area is now buzzing with activity from morning 'til night, just as base leaders had envisioned.

Throughout the military, support for military families has been improving, including more programs for spouses that incorporate nutrition/healthy eating and active lifestyles into the overall message. And many military fitness professionals, including several fitness chiefs interviewed for this issue, were involved in the DoD Family Fitness Project, which was tasked over this past year with identifying key areas of focus and importance that were ultimately incorporated into the HBI, according to Catherine Ficadenti, acting deputy director, Semper Fit and Recreation Programs, Semper Fit and Exchange Services Division, Marine Corps headquarters.

“Several components of the HBI and the Family Fitness Project align effortlessly, as the project team worked to identify opportunities that gave military families avenues to pursue an active lifestyle of physical activities and healthy choices,” she points out. “The goal of the HBI is to improve the health and wellness of service members and their families by providing an environment (the military installation) that encourages good nutrition, active lifestyles and tobacco-free living, making healthy living the easy choice and the social norm.”

Prevention is key in training, too, and fitness leaders are incorporating all aspects of a new “pre-habilitative approach” to mission readiness that includes addressing not only the physical preparedness of a service member but also the mental, family, emotional and spiritual elements as well. This paradigm shift in the way military fitness leaders are training and preparing service members for the mission means that long, grueling runs of the past have been replaced by functional fitness workouts that build strength and balance from the core outward, creating combat athletes who are stronger, faster and less likely to get injured under extreme physical stress.

But it is going to require continued support and funding on all levels for the HBI to fully realize its potential, and truly be successful. The future health — both physical and fiscal — of the nation is depending on it.