The Importance of Leadership in Soldiers' Nutritional Behaviors: Results from the Soldier Fueling Initiative Program Evaluation

Jackson, Theresa K.; Cable, Sonya J.; Jin, Wana K.; Robinson, Ayanna; Dennis, Sabriya D.; Vo, Linda T.; Prosser, Trish J.; Rawlings, Jess A.
October 2013
U.S. Army Medical Department Journal;Oct-Dec2013, p79
Academic Journal
Introduction: Improving Soldiers' nutritional habits continues to be a concern of the US Army, especially amidst increasing obesity and high injury rates. This study examines leadership influence on nutritional behaviors within the context of the Soldier Fueling Initiative, a program providing nutrition education and improved dining facility menus to Soldiers in Basic Combat Training (BCT) and Advanced Individual Training (AIT). Methods: A mixed methods design using surveys (N=486) and focus groups (N=112) was used to collect data at Fort Jackson, SC, and Fort Eustis, VA, in 2011. Results: Survey results showed 75% of Soldiers in BCT believed their drill sergeant was helpful in making performance-enhancing food choices, and 86% agreed their drill sergeant believed it is important to eat for performance. Soldiers in AIT perceived their cadre as less helpful than their BCT drill sergeants and agreed less frequently that the AIT cadre believed it was important to eat for performance (P<.05). These measures of leader influence were significantly associated with nutritional attitudes and behaviors in both BCT and AIT. Focus groups revealed 5 key themes related to cadre influence and nutrition behavior (listed in order of most to least frequent): (1) cadre influence food choices through consequences related to selection, (2) cadre teach Soldiers how to eat, (3) cadre rush Soldiers to eat quickly to return to training, (4) cadre influence choice through example but often do not make healthy choices, and (5) cadre have no influence on food choices. Comment: Leaders influence most Soldiers' nutrition practices within the training environment, particularly within BCT. Given that leader influence can impact Soldiers' attitudes and behaviors, it is critical that military leaders become knowledgeable about optimal nutrition practices to disseminate appropriate information to their Soldiers, avoid reprimand associated with trainees' food choices, reinforce key messages associated with nutrition programming, and lead by example in their own food choices.


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