Army looking to better monitor service member wellness

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The Army’s Public Health Center monitors all factors that can impact the health of its forces. The Army’s Health Promotion and Wellness Directorate is concerned with the individual soldiers. It has been expanding its capabilities to ensure that every uniform holder is at their best. Yesterday was the conclusion of the Association of the U.S. Army conference. Federal Drive with Tom TeminLaura Mitvalsky, Health Promotion and Wellness Director, was interviewed.

Laura Mitvalsky:The Army Public Health Center is, in fact, the CDC for the Army. Everything from my director of Health Promotion and Wellness, but it runs the gamut of occupational health, industrial hygiene, toxicology lab, I mean, it’s a whole huge center of about 600 people. So I’m here as the director for Health Promotion and Wellness. This is just one of the directorates.

Tom TeminOkay. The Army Wellness Center is one of the most active places in these days.

Laura Mitvalsky:They are, they’re. We have 35 centers in the Army. So, in the Pacific, in Europe, then in the United States. We are calling them Army Wellness Centers slash Armed Forces Wellness Centers. Human physiology is human, and we’re transitioning to the Defense Health Agency. So whether your soldier, sailor, marine, or airmen — my son’s an ROTC airman — that we can take care of all of those, those people who are struggling with weight, their runtimes, their PFT, their physical fitness, training, and tobacco – use all of the things that deter you from having optimized.

Tom TeminThis happens throughout the soldiers’ lifecycle as soldiers, that is, they are inducted, then train, and they arrive with all kinds of states, big and small. However, I believe that the soldier’s wellness must continue after they have completed their initial training.

Laura Mitvalsky: Absolutely, absolutely. So we want to take people from the time they joined the military, because we’re the military is just a microcosm of the nation, right. Everybody who comes into the DoD, no matter what service they choose to join, has different backgrounds and fitness levels. We take them from the beginning and work with them every step of the way in the Army. So wherever you go, it’s kind of like the MC wellness of the Army, right? You can pick up these assessments wherever you go. So if you’re struggling with your weight, when you’re at Fort Bragg, we’ll work with you and do a metabolic assessment on you, we can tell you within 25 calories within a 24 hour period, how many calories your body needs to maintain weight, lose weight, or gain weight. So depending upon what your health and wellness goal is, we can give you an exact test that’s based upon your physiology and then coach you as to how you can work towards that. Whatever your goal. Same thing with running, if you’re a slow runner, we’ll put you on a treadmill and VO2 Max and so then we’ll say okay, this is how you’re gonna improve your run time. These are the types of things we do at the center.

Tom TeminPerhaps I’d like to drop by on my own.

Laura Mitvalsky:Yes. We have one at Fort Belvoir, it’s not far.

Tom Temin But does the history show that say someone comes into the Army as a first time recruit, and they’re fat. The Army training takes that out. They are a trimmer soldier after basic training, but people tend not to return to the original metabolic DNA they were born with. So I imagine there’s the follow up is probably one of the most crucial things you do for people.

Laura Mitvalsky:Right. So it’s not so much their DNA, it’s more just behavior, right. It’s a modifiable risk factors. We have fast food everywhere, we don’t have environments that support a healthy change, right. So it’s very available, not during basic, but then as soon as you get out all of that’s available to you again. The idea behind this is to help people make healthy choices, wherever they may be, and move upstream of problems before they become a problem. That’s really what this is all about is an upstream approach. It’s a really good book by Dan Heath called Upstream. And so it’s really getting upstream of the issues that we’re seeing in the military and trying to prevent them before they happen.

Tom TeminHow do you interact with the various commands and structures of the Army that deal with soldiers as their employees?

Laura Mitvalsky:Right. Again, we have wellness centres across the Army. So there’s wellness centers within FORSCOM, USARPAC, TradeUp, across the whole Army. So we make sure what’s really exciting about this program, because it’s the same wherever you go. We have a very robust evaluation and monitoring process so we can breathe to commanders, you know, you send your soldiers to us and we’re going to show you the impact of of them coming to the center and show you how they’ve improved their their performance and are more optimized.

Tom TeminBy the way, how fast should someone be able run a mile?

Laura Mitvalsky:It depends on your age. Not me, I’m not the runner.

Tom Temin Well, I used to be so that’s why I always asked that question. We’re speaking with Laura Mitvalsky, she’s director for Health Promotions and Wellness at the Army Public Health Center. And with respect to Army families, increasingly this is being recognized as part of a soldier’s total health system. And you’ve got a new report on family health. Tell us about the elements of family wellness and what you found.

Laura Mitvalsky:We are grateful that you asked this question. So right after this interview, we’re going to be doing a panel. Our report is called Optimizing the Army Families’ Health. So it’s really a call to action. We do a report which is called health force. This is for all soldiers. It can be found on the Army Public Health Center website. We’ve been doing it every year. And it’s really the health of this active duty population. This is optimizing the health and well-being of the family member. And there’s a great study out by OPA, Office of People Analytics, that says if you are the best predictor of whether a military member stays in the Army, is if their their spouse is satisfied with military life. So if you think about a family being happy with military life, that’s directly correlated to readiness and retention of our active duty soldiers. Right, 51% of active duty soldiers are married. We want to ensure that we also optimize the health of our Army families.

Tom Temin There’s a lot of elements I imagine that go into that because it can be stressful with frequent moves to different locations. My imagination includes the presence of children.

Laura Mitvalsky:Yes. All of these things. And that’s exactly what this report is going to speaks to is what do we know now about the health of the Army family and the stressors on PCS moves as stressors, financial stress, the COVID-19 pandemic, and what those stressors are on the Army family, military spouse employment. All of those things, and there’s many agencies within the Army that are working hard to improve that each and every day.

Tom TeminDo you use survey or other metrics as part of your assessment methodology?

Laura Mitvalsky: So what’s really exciting about this report, similar to Help the Force is that Rand, OPA, Office of People Analytics, there’s so many different researchers and evaluators that are doing studies, the Millennium Cohort study, but they’re not all consolidated into one single report. And that’s what this is. So we’re not doing surveys, we’re actually pulling together 300 articles, peer reviewed articles, looking at all the different data sources that are out there, and then putting that into one report. So what are the next steps? And we’re providing some really actionable recommendations. So we’re excited to tell the group about it.

Tom TeminYou found that the studies included enough military families to provide a statistical base on which you can rely.

Laura Mitvalsky: Yes, but that’s a great point is that it’s very hard, still, to have data around our military family. And one of the efforts that Dr. Santo, one of my lead evaluators for this report that we’re waving at, is to see how can we work with agencies that are already doing surveys of our nation and then really carving out where our military families are, and being able to get some of those demographics who can really have a good idea of what they need and target.

Tom TeminAnd how healthy is the family of military personnel?

Laura Mitvalsky: We’re a microcosm of the nation. I believe people join the military to be part of something larger. They say it’s a family affair. Usually, people that join the military have families who are in the military, so there’s already a help focus there. So I think it’s a calling. So if soldiers try to be well, I believe the family also tries to be well. But again.

Tom Temin There’s issues.

Laura Mitvalsky:Yes, because the environment must support healthy change. Schools, housing, and food are just a few examples. healthy foodThere are many options. DCA is working to provide healthy grab-and-gos and they are also commissaries. APC is trying bring in healthy restaurants. So, everyone is now realizing how important an environment piece is to healthy change.

Tom TeminThese fake hamburgers are already Army-drab green. So maybe that’ll help get those sold. Your top two recommendations.

Laura Mitvalsky:The report has my top two recommendations. If you’re a family member, we have recommendations for family members, if you’re a policymaker, we have recommendations for policymakers, we have recommendations for researchers. So just read the report and take some of those actionable recommendations and put them into the work that you’re doing. We can then begin to show the results of our improvements. In terms of wellness centers. If you haven’t been to a wellness center and you’re a soldier or family member who’s struggling with weight, or if you’re struggling with run time, if you’re a tobacco user or if you feel you’re under stress, we have specific assessments that we can do to help you and then coach you through how to improve in those areas.

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