Tag Archives: Health

Military Regulations Shouldn’t Stop at the Golden Arches’ Front Door

Recently I wrote on the U.S. military’s experimentation with “non-traditional” exercise plans in order to stem the tide of rising obesity within the ranks.  However, many have suggested that changes in fitness programs are only half the battle, and that what the military sorely needs is to stop supplying soldiers with nutritionally deficient meal options.
Most people are well aware that the military is an excellent option for those looking to serve their country and learn leadership in a demanding and structured environment.  Most people are unaware that the military is also the obvious option for those looking to serve their bodies with high calorie and fat laden meal choices.
Take for example, the variety of meal options available to members of the U.S. Army and Air Force.  The Army & Air Force Exchange Service or AAFES, an agency of the Department of Defense, operates the Post Exchange or PX which carries department store type goods and merchandise for soldiers and airmen.  AAFES has signed franchise contracts with such meal providers as A&W Restaurants, Burger King, McDonalds, Cinnabon, Taco Bell, and Pizza Hut just to name a few.   Fort Hood, Texas is one of our nation’s largest military posts, and it’s “Mega Food Court,” boasts the following; Charley’s Steakery, Captain D’s, Burger King, and Baskin Robbins.   If a soldier can’t make his way to the Mega Food Court there are several Burger King and Charley’s Steakery locations throughout the post.  There’s also an Einstein Bagel located at Fort Hood for those soldiers who would like to keep their caloric meal intake for one meal to below 700 calories.  This type of disparity in menu options is seemingly uniform throughout the military.  The main PX at Fort Stewart, GA offers its own Cinnabon, as well as a Robin Hood, Anthony’s Pizza, Taco John’s, and Charley’s Steakery.  In other locations on post soldiers can dine at a Godfather’s Pizza, Popeye’s, or Burger King.
What alternatives to soldiers have? Well there is the dependable dining facility.  Army regulations mandate that these facilities “apply nutrition principles” and “provide both healthy choices and highly acceptable food items” for each meal.  Specifically, the facilities must include choices from each food group from the USDA Food Guide Pyramid, and the caloric value of each menu item must be posted in order to promote healthy food choices.
Military members could choose these healthier options instead of the junk food prevalent on military posts and bases worldwide, but they often choose not too for a few reasons.  For one, dining facilities are open only at traditional meal times; breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and even then only for ninety minutes.  Due to work and other responsibilities many soldiers are inevitably going to miss these times.  Second, most soldiers did not grow up eating food in a dining facility type atmosphere and would rather sit in the restaurant style setting they are accustomed to versus the “head-count”  and predetermined meal setting from basic training.  Military life is regimented and soldiers will often opt for any break from the routine.
The military can solve this problem by continuing its commitment to nutrition in dining facilities, and at the same contracting with companies that provide meal options that do not devastate waist lines.  Compare the caloric content and meals offered by Burger King, McDonalds, and Charley’s Steakery with offerings from Panera Bread, Jason’s Deli, Au Bon Pain, and Chipotle.   Are these companies not willing to operate on military installations, or are we not asking them?
These changes must occur if the military is going to deal with its growing obesity problem.  Soldiers may complain about the loss of fatty food, but the military should treat this issue no different than any other dealing with health and safety.  The military, and to a larger extent the Department of Defense, regulates every detail of a soldiers life and this should include the vendors allowed to operate in the soldier’s “neighborhood.”
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