Navy nudging sailors toward a healthier lifestyle

A "Go for Green" promotional poster aimed at Navy personnel. (Human Performance Resource Center)
A "Go for Green" promotional poster aimed at Navy personnel. (Human Performance Resource Center)

Navy nudging sailors toward a healthier lifestyle

by: Julia Bergman | .
The Day, New London, Conn. | .
published: September 11, 2015

GROTON, Conn. (Tribune News Service) — Burger days have been a staple of the Navy as long as the Navy has been around, sailors say.

"There are certain things that the Navy doesn't want to let go of like burger days," said Lt. Jonathan Bradshaw, food service officer, while sitting in the Cross Hall Galley at Naval Submarine Base.

While the juicy food option likely isn't going away, the Navy is trying to nudge sailors to put down the hamburger for a healthier option.

In June, Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus released an ALNAV, or 'All Navy,' message detailing personnel policy changes.

"The ultimate goal of all of these changes is to promote a healthy, agile, and innovative organization capable of attracting, growing, and keeping the talent needed to address the national security challenges of the future," Mabus said in the message.

"A well-balanced diet is the foundation of a healthy lifestyle. So we must provide nutritious food options for Sailors and Marines at sea and ashore," Mabus said.

A month before the message, Mabus discussed deep fryers being replaced by state-of-the-art ovens in chow halls, and the Department of Defense's "Go for Green" nutrition program.

At Naval Submarine Base's Cross Hall Galley, staff are using the special ovens in lieu of fryers and the "Go for Green" program is in place.

The program categorizes food into three categories: "green," meaning eat often; "yellow," meaning eat occasionally; and "red," meaning eat rarely.

Most of the people eating at the galley are new sailors who are coming through sub school. The sailors are usually between the ages of 17 and 20, and as Bradshaw put it, "a lot of them are chicken nuggets kind of fans."

The idea is to try to change their eating habits by making it easier for them, by giving them healthy options to chose from. Bradshaw said the galley serves about 1,100 to 1,200 meals per day.

The changes are perhaps subtle, but hopefully significant. There's more items at the salad bar.

When going through the line, sailors have a healthy entrée option to chose from, and can see whether the foods they are choosing fall under the "red," "yellow" or "green" categories of the "Go for Green," program.

Pamphlets detailing the various categories are also at each table in the galley. The ladles that galley staff use to serve the food measure out proper portion sizes.

At the soda machines, there are more fitness water and diet soda options. Galley staff has done menu substitutions, switching out items that are high in sodium and fat.

The staff will host vendor rodeos, where vendors bring in items that coincide with the galley menu and other healthier options, and sailors sample the items and provide feedback.

Bradshaw says the staff solicits feedback as much as possible. Comment cards are available in the galley for sailors to fill out. Those comments go "un-vetted" up to Capt. Carl Lahti, commanding officer at sub base.

"We've always had healthy choices, the problem is convincing sailors to make the healthy choice," Lahti said. He also noted the challenge in measuring whether healthy initiatives such as this are successful or not.

Bradshaw said he and others keep track of what's eaten and what's leftover so they're able to get a picture of what sailors are eating and not. So in that way they can examine what healthy options, if any, the sailors are choosing.

The food at the galley now is better than when Cmdr. Kurt Stronach, executive officer at the base, went through sub school in the 80s, even though, he said "we were the best fed."

By best fed, Stronach meant fed the most.

He described meals high in fat, and lots of meat. Lobster, steak or surf n' turf was "like a thing every week," he said. "Spices were unheard of."

Staff would plop food down on a sailors plate, "like the movies," Stronach said, "next!"

Beyond the galley, the base as a whole, under the Department of Defense's Healthy Base Initiative, has been taking a number of steps impacting food choices.

The base was one of more than 10 sites selected a few years ago to participate in the initiative.

The overall goal, Lahti said, is to reduce DOD health costs.

"We know if you have a healthier lifestyle, you don't smoke cigarettes, you're not obese," he said.

As part of the initiative, the Morale Wellness and Recreation program has developed programs targeted at improving physical fitness and the importance of a healthy diet.

There's more healthy "grab-n-go" options at the MWR Liberty Center, where sailors go to play video games, use computers and hang out. 

The Navy Exchange has filled its vending machines with more healthier options, and have placed stickers on items that feature 250 calories or less and that are high in protein.

The Commissary, where many sailors and their families do their grocery shopping, features a much larger produce section and there are more healthier options in the "grab-n-go" section.

Even the youth center has started an outside garden, using produce grown in the garden to make meals in cooking classes.

The youth center is now in the midst of starting a hydroponic garden, which uses water but no soil.

Most recently, a farmer's market was established at the Balfour Beatty Community Center, the base's public-private venture housing area.

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