Healthy Base Initiative ends, Team March continues concept

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The Defense Department’s Healthy Base Initiative is about to end, but the emphasis on health and wellness is merely making a transition.

The Healthy Base Initiative, a DOD demonstration project at 14 installations that tested ways to improve the health and wellness of troops, civilians and their families, is ending this month. However, the successful ideas that have emerged from the project will be made available next spring for other installation commands.

Since the test was launched in early 2013, the focus has been on tobacco-free living, active lifestyles, healthy eating and healthy community environments. Bases tested a variety of ideas and programs, some of which were started before the Healthy Base Initiative demonstration project, in order to identify effective ways to improve the overall health and wellness.

March Air Reserve Base was the only Reserve base selected to participate in the Initiative. Changes were made at March to increase the number of tobacco-free areas on base, increase opportunities for members to exercise, increase awareness of proper nutrition through the commissary and club, and to provide health and wellness information and education for the March community.

“HBI gave March personnel opportunities to experience healthier foods at the Back Street Café, while services personnel learned better food preparation by the Culinary Institute of America (CIA),” said Lt. Col. Scipiaruth Curtis, HBI program manager. “HBI shifted the March personnel mindset by providing the funding for implementing WellBeats–wellness resource for innovative group fitness solutions, which invigorated our physical environment with total fitness activities.”

Officials won’t know about the success of the ideas until all results are in and tallied. Base officials are submitting final data and completing an assessment survey by the end of August. They’re measuring factors such as changes in the rates of obesity and overweight; change in the usage of tobacco; change in the percentage of total sales at commissaries that is fresh produce; the percentage change in designated tobacco areas; and the percentage of schools that have made positive changes.

The final phase of the analysis is expected to be completed in September, said DOD spokesman Air Force Maj. Ben Sakrisson. Lessons learned will be documented in a report this fall. A toolkit with resources and details on best practices will be available to installation commands next spring.

Although the final numbers have not been tallied, Team March will continue to strive toward health and wellness.

“HBI implementation strategies will require senior leadership support and commitment by several functional areas in the Force Support Squadron, such as the Fitness Center and Services,” said Curtis. “To assist unit members in learning about total fitness, health and wellness, we found that the Unit Fitness Monitors and Physical Training Leaders are instrumental in setting goals and objectives in the long term strategy for all members to reduce obesity.”      

The initiative is part of DOD’s overarching Operation Live Well program, which supports the National Prevention Strategy of improving health and well-being using a prevention-oriented approach. Through Operation Live Well, DOD will continue “implementing and supporting demonstration of research that supports Total Force fitness,” Sakrisson said.

The goal of HBI was to provide each installation with a full year of the demonstration. Information was not available about the cost of the initiative, but when it was launched, officials said $5 million had been budgeted to pay for site visits and develop a comprehensive report.

One of the early findings was a comparative scarcity of healthy food choices on military installations. Officials rated the food options on the 14 test sites using DOD’s Military Nutrition Environment Assessment Tool, which helps health promotion professionals, commanding officers and others measure accessibility to healthy food options. On a 100-point scale, dining facilities scored 82 and commissaries 88. But fast food outlets rated 38; convenience stores, 36, and vending machines, 17.

As a result of those findings, officials ordered a comprehensive study of the food situation on military installations to provide a baseline assessment of that issue. Information was not available on the status of that study.

However, food services at the Hap Arnold Club and Back Street Café revealed a healthier menu as a result of the initiative.

Three programs were implemented there–Smarter Food Movement, Go for Green and Menu Renovation. They improved the food selection for members, and increased their knowledge for better health and fitness.

The demonstration project may be ending at the 14 locations, but the emphasis on healthy living isn’t necessarily going away. At Defense Logistics Agency headquarters at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, the HBI team has transitioned to a new title — the Headquarters Complex Health and Fitness Council, which will continue the HBI projects, according to a news release from the agency.

Although the test did not officially extend to the agency’s field activities, those activities used the headquarters’ participation in HBI to put changes in place to make healthy living easier.

“Since rolling out the Fitness Kiosk ‘WellBeats’ (at the March Fitness Center), we have updated our monthly fitness schedule to include many online fitness activities that are attended weekly by civilians and military members,” said Curtis.

On the Unit Training Assemblies the Force Support Squadron continues to find new, innovative ways to include spouses and family members, such as the HBI Wingman Day, held last September.

“This year we plan to have the Annual Kids and Adult 5K Run in conjunction with the 1st Sergeant’s Council during our combined UTA in September,” Curtis said. “As evident from last year, the 5K event will be well attended and fun for all!”

(Linda Welz, Beacon editor, contributed to this story.)