Cooking for Health in the Military

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Samueli Institute, in collaboration with the office of the U.S. Army Surgeon General, embarked on a pilot project to investigate whether an integrated training approach involving culinary skills, nutritional science, behavioral coaching, mindfulness and exercise is feasible to implement and impactful in a military environment.

“If large numbers of possible recruits are ineligible to serve, and poor activity and nutrition discipline impacts the readiness of those that do enter military service, then the issue is not just a matter of National health; it is a matter of National security.” U.S. Army Surgeon General Lieutenant General Patricia D. Horoho

 

Because the military profession is one of the most demanding work commitments in the U.S., Samueli Institute began the process of developing its unique healthy lifestyle skills training course with a thorough needs assessment via a series of interviews with active duty military members and their spouses. Feedback from surveys and field interviews helped shape a pilot program that was robust enough to effect behavior change in individual participants and their families, but flexible enough to fit the workload and professional challenges of an active duty military member.

Once a curriculum was tailored to the work/life challenges of the military community, participants were recruited for the first pilot study. Twenty individuals (10 men, 10 women; 16 active duty, 4 spouses) took part in the first training, which required 12 weeks of participation up to eight hours per week. The first training session ran from March 19 to June 6, 2015 and held a retention rate of 85 percent with 17 participants completing all 12 weeks of coursework.

High levels of satisfaction with the curriculum help explain the excellent retention rate. One participant, who rated the experience a 10 out of 10 described, “I gained so much! I would not even go into the kitchen before, but this program taught me to cook in a healthy environment. It emotionally changed me!”

A second cohort of 20 will begin the training again in the fall of 2015. Samueli Institute researchers are gathering data from both cohorts before and after the course, with follow up at 3 and 6 months after, to measure behavior changes in food purchasing, consumption and activity levels as well as a battery of health metrics to measure the impact of providing an integrated health and wellness training that includes cooking skills, nutrition, mindfulness and exercise.

Anecdotal evidence from the first cohort is positive, with participants reporting weight loss, changes in waist/pant size, improved energy, healthier food selection, elimination of sugary beverages, increased food and beverage consumption, and a greater focus on getting eight hours of sleep nightly.

The end goal of this pilot investigation is to determine whether a multi-faceted approach to lifestyle education demonstrates:

  1. Feasibility and accessibility in a military setting
  2. Behavior changes in food purchasing, consumption and activity levels
  3. Improvement in health related outcomes

U.S. Army Surgeon General Lieutenant General Patricia D. Horoho has developed a Performance Triad Pilot Program that focuses on the three pillars of sleep, activity, and nutrition (SAN), the goal of which is to positively influence personal health choices in order to optimize health, performance and resilience.

The Samueli Institute Teaching Kitchen curriculum is designed to align with the Performance Triad and provide life-skills and coaching that make it easier for participants to make informed, healthy choices in how they eat, exercise and rest.


PHASES OF A TEACHING KITCHEN

Phase 1: Assess the requirements for and interest level in a teaching kitchen through a mixed-methods research approach.

Phase 2: Conduct pilot studies to see if the customized curriculum is effective to create sustainable behavior change.

Phase 3: Report on data, retool as needed and expand to scale.