From the Homefront: Keeping Coastie families healthy

Twice a month, Coast Guard All Hands will feature “From the Homefront,” a column for Coast Guard spouses by Coast Guard spouse Shelley Kimball. Shelley has been married to Capt. Joe Kimball, commanding officer of Air Station Miami, for 13 years and currently serves as chapter director for Blue Star Families in Miami, Fla.

Personnel assigned to U.S. Coast Guard Air Station Cape Cod getting ready for a run. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

Personnel assigned to U.S. Coast Guard Air Station Cape Cod getting ready for a Wednesday run. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

Written by Shelley Kimball.

Air Station Cape Cod is the only Coast Guard station chosen to participate in the Department of Defense’s Healthy Base Initiative, a project intended to have long-reaching effects on the health of active duty members and dependents. Learning what is happening to make Air Station Cape Cod a healthier base may be a preview into the future of health for other stations.

Photo by Bill Keefrey.

Photo by Bill Keefrey.

The Healthy Base Initiative is the Department of Defense’s project to study the most effective ways to reduce obesity and tobacco use, which it attributes to more than $3 billion annually in healthcare costs. They chose 14 military sites to use education and innovation to encourage healthier lifestyles among active duty service members and their families.

Gary Scheer, the Coast Guard director of Morale, Well-being and Recreation, said he is enthusiastic about the HBI project so far.

“ When you think about being part of the testing of a set of initiatives, measuring the results and seeing if they have an impact on changing two of the most important health issues facing America today, obesity and tobacco use, you can’t help but be excited,” he said.

Cape Cod was chosen due to the joint nature of the base, Scheer said. It is large geographically, and it offers support services to other collocated military commands.

The initiative has been in place for about a year now, during which those working on the project have been determining which programs to test at which bases. The command at Cape Cod chose the initiatives that would best fit the station, and the experts with HBI have determined how to establish baselines and testing procedures to measure the results.

“Most of the initiatives will start over the next several months and the command will periodically take measurements, developed by the HBI team, that will ultimately determine if these initiatives at Air Station Cape Cod actually moved the needle in reducing obesity and tobacco use in active duty members and their dependents,” Scheer said.

Some of the efforts already in place are:

Smarter Food Movement: Like the Smarter Lunchrooms program, this food initiative uses behavioral economics and choice architecture to encourage healthier meal choices. Researchers from Cornell University visted Air Station Cape Cod in February. The researchers examined all locations in which food can be purchased such as the galley, commissary, exchange and MWR locations.

Some of the changes recommended were to move the salad bar to a more visible location so people are more likely to choose it first; reorganize the salad bar so the items with higher fat and calories come last after leafy greens and vegetables; add precut fruit to the dessert area; and preplate half portions of desserts.

Go for Green: Foods in dining facilities are labeled with their nutritional values and color-coded to make choices quickly and easily. Foods labeled in green should be eaten often, amber for occasional foods, and red for rarely eaten foods.

Menu renovation: The goal of this facet of the program is to provide more foods that would fall into the green category listed above by developing new recipes, training from the Culinary Institute of America, and contacting the food suppliers to ensure support.

Tobacco counter-marketing: At the point of sale at the exchange, information and signs counter the marketing tactics that push tobacco sales.

Fitness initiatives: There is a command-directed all hands fitness training on the first Wednesday of the month and an additional adult sports program in place. The fitness training has been in place for several years, but now they will study how effective it is in increasing health benefits.

Personnel assigned to U.S. Coast Guard Air Station Cape Cod on a run. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

And you thought we only made recruits do this at Training Center Cape May? Members assigned to Air Station Cape Cod carry a towing hawser on their run. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

“We’re going to develop some metrics about that to see what we can do better,” said LT. Bryan Hoyt, who has been working on the project from Cape Cod.

In June, Cape Cod will have a kick-off event to introduce the new initiatives to active duty members and families. They will have a 5k run, tours of the commissary and educational areas for families. As part of the event, a chef from the Culinary Institute of America will train food service personnel on healthy meal prep.

Some of the new options that will be available soon to Air Station Cape Cod are:

Fitness on Request: This is a kiosk-based fitness system in which active duty and family members can choose videos of instructors and exercise classes for different fitness levels that they can complete alone or in groups at any time, day or night. Childcare will not be made available for spouses to use this facility, however those who have been planning the initiative hope the flexibility the system provides and its close proximity to housing will make it easier for family members to exercise with it.

Share our Strength, 5210 Program: The 5210 program’s mission is to help parents and children learn more about nutrition and positive health behaviors. It partnered with Share Our Strength, a nonprofit organization that fights childhood hunger. Share Our Strength will hire a part-time employee who will teach families to shop for healthy foods on a budget by conducting tours of the Coast Guard Exchange marketplace at Cape Cod.

UltimateMe: This begins with a web-based assessment tool that will calculate user’s health ages. From there, it allows users to follow their improvements, and get personalized recommendations for getting healthier. The interactive tools provide information from medical experts about workouts and nutrition, as well as activity trackers.

Just being part of the planning process has shined a light on healthier lifestyles for those at Air Station Cape Cod.

“Being part of HBI exposed us to a lot of great material on food, food architecture and eating in general,” Scheer said. “Personally, I think a lot of the information would be really good for families to consider in their day-to-day lives. A lot of it is how we can influence healthful eating in and out of the home.”

Hoyt said he thinks the health innovations will be exciting to family members, especially the Fitness on Request. The fitness classes offered are currently popular, “all the new stuff, which I think the dependents will really like,” he said.

Scheer said three of the initiatives, especially, will most benefit spouses and family members. The food architecture changes made all over the base will affect families when they come to eat during off-duty hours. The Fitness on Request system is designed specifically so spouses can exercise alone or together and choose the programming that best suits them. The Share Our Strength program will give families life-long lessons in shopping for healthy and inexpensive foods.

“Every family struggles with providing healthy meals within tight budgets,” Scheer said. “The knowledge that our families will get from this program, alone will be something that they can take with them no matter where their next duty station may be.”

The views expressed herein are those of the author and are not to be construed as official or reflecting the views of the Commandant or of the U.S. Coast Guard.

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