08:13 GMT23 April 2021
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    Members of the US Marines and Army are going to see major changes to their chow halls this fall as the service fights high rates of obesity among servicemen.

    According to Marine Corps leaders, the service is planning to offer cuisine similar to that offered by US Division I NCAA athletic programs. 

    "I've got two sons that are both college athletes, and their dining facilities are phenomenal," Col. Stephen Armes, director of the Marine Corps' Force Fitness Division, told Military.com Sunday.

    "Everything on the chow line is good, and it's also good for you."

    Nikki Jupe, the University of Oregon's senior sports dietician, told Military.com that athletic performance is indirectly connected to nutrition because the right foods can help decrease recovery time, reduce the risk of injury and even improve athletes' mental endurance. All of these benefits can also be reaped by the military if they adopt similar nutrition practices, she noted.

    "Incorporating the basic nutrition principles will build a foundation for mission readiness, cognitive performance as well as endurance performance," Jupe told Military.com recently. "Using different nutritional strategies [can also help] prepare for deployment."

    Sharlene Holladay, a certified specialist in sports dietetics for the Marine Corps, will be leading the overhaul of the service's dining choices.

    According to Holladay, the Marines can expect to soon see "cleaner proteins and better convenience-line grab-go options."

    "Additionally, cold-bar options will offer traditional vegetables, chopped eggs, yogurt, cheese, salsa, legumes and trail mixes at all meals."

    Marines in Okinawa, Japan, who have been consuming healthy meals for more than a year, have been enjoying the performance-enhancing foods, Holladay added. Once the meal changes are implemented at US Marine Corps bases in September, Holladay and her team will continue modifying menus depending on feedback.

    In 2014, the US Navy stopped selling soda and fried foods aboard shops, while the Army implemented the Go For Green program, which "employs several nudging strategies to encourage soldiers to select healthy food and beverages," according to Laura Mitvalsky, director of health promotion and wellness at the Army Public Health Center. 

    Such strategies include labeling, menu coding (green, yellow and red color codes to indicate the healthfulness of the food) and education marketing materials so that personnel can make healthy eating choices.

    According to Holladay, the Marine Corps will employ a similar coding system.

    "If the food is labeled green when you go through the chow line, go as much as you want," Armes said. "If it's yellow, go with caution. If it's red, go minimal."

    "Small changes are key to increasing fruit and vegetable intake and improve soldiers' nutrition status," Mitvalsky said.

    The Army & Air Force Exchange Service, which is the the retailer on US Army and Air Force installations worldwide, is also working to provide healthier quick service choices on installations. Soldiers can now eat at Subway, Qdoba or Muscle Maker Grill instead of at less healthy fast food chains.

    In addition, the military is going to help troops develop better eating habits through education.

    "Understanding these habits starts with education," Jupe told Military.com. 

    "Having a combat-registered dietitian be a part of the process allows for insight and initial/extended education to aid in better habits and body composition change," Jupe added.

    "Education on the ways of fluid loss, physical training and how to hydrate are important," Holladay noted. "Weighing in and out of activity, sweat testing and assessing electrolyte levels are ways you can educate each individual to individually recover/prepare for physical training. All of these tie back to how each person fuels their days for activity."


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