Leveraging Technology to Increase Soldier Health and Awareness
The Surgeon General of the U.S. Army, Lt. Gen. Patricia D. Horoho, has a plan -- and it's a healthy one. Although she hopes her initiative will one day help to advance the fitness and well-being of our nation's warfighters, she believes it may eventually transcend the military milieu and help improve the health of millions of Americans.
"When I look at the nation and I look at the rising cost of health care, and how unhealthy we've become as a nation, I believe that if we can really focus on sleep, activity, and nutrition, and take health care outside of the scenario and really push health, I think we can improve the health of not only our military, we can improve the health of our nation," said Horoho to participants of her Performance Triad Workshop, held at Fort Detrick, Md., May 30.
Organized and sponsored by the Telemedicine and Advanced Technology Research Center of the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command, the two-day workshop brought together thought leaders from government, industry and academia in the fields of health, technology and behavior to discuss the primary topic of leveraging technology to create and sustain changes in health.
"The Performance Triad [sleep, activity, nutrition] is the Surgeon General's number one priority," said Lt. Col. Deydre Teyhen, TATRC deputy director, "and it involves enhancing activity, nutrition and sleep in order to optimize the performance of our Soldiers."
TATRC has held two workshop sessions at Fort Detrick, in April and May of this year, to support Horoho's vision.
"The goal of these workshops was to determine how to best use technology to overcome those barriers to make lifestyle changes easier," said Teyhen.
One suggestion was the use of a personal readiness device. These PRDs are wristbands that synchronize with smart phones and personal computers to track sleep, activity, and nutrition, and can also offer healthy choices for food intake. The device actually helps to make counting calories a fun activity, and Teyhen said the buy-in from Soldiers has been very positive.
"We've actually tested this program with the Old Guard Soldiers at Fort Myer (Va.), and they love it," she said. "They said it is new and novel, and they are very excited about it."
The team at TATRC plays an important role in the initiative to investigate and recommend technology-based solutions to meet the Surgeon General's goal of achieving readiness and resilience throughout the military. It has been exploring two interrelated areas: technology, and incentives to promote change. With regard to this program, "technology" involves the use of device- or software-based solutions to promote healthy exercise, nutrition and sleep; "incentives to promote change" focuses on strategies from public health, gaming, social media, and other areas that may help to build and reinforce [good] habits. By utilizing these two avenues, the researchers hope to develop methods by which individuals may create and sustain positive changes in personal health practices, which should translate to healthier lifestyles.
During the May workshop session, participants considered a holistic picture of the health of the individual (i.e. Soldier, family member, veteran), Army and Department of Defense, and the nation, to identify leading practices, research gaps, and the need to explore potential technology solutions that may influence real and sustained change in the health of all.
Brig. Gen. (P) Joseph Caravalho Jr., USAMRMC and Fort Detrick commander, addressed the participants on day one of the workshop session, and within his message, he offered a challenge to the group.
"What innovations can you bring to the table to help the Surgeon General move forward in establishing a program that will encourage people to partner with us in this initiative -- which will help make them healthier in the long run?" asked Caravalho. "We're going to look at all the great ideas that you have ... whether it's small business, university, or large industry -- we're going to look at it."
"You have complete buy-in from the military on this," he continued. "We must move from a health care system to a system of health."
The overarching goal of this program is to encourage both the military and civilian population to move about more during their daily routine. Throughout today's work environment, the use of personal computers at almost every workstation has made many employees stagnant.
"Our current workspace, whether you're in the field or in garrison, requires a lot more sitting than it used to," said Teyhen. "And we're now finding that sitting [too often] is very harmful. So this initiative is meant to bring awareness to the harmful effects of [prolonged] sitting, in addition to the benefits of more routine physical activity."
Teyhen said that although routine physical activity is important for good health, a proper amount of quality sleep each day is also critical. Without appropriate sleep, people may make poor decisions that affect more than just themselves.
"It's not only about 'I will' but also 'I won't,'" said Teyhen. "You have to maintain that healthy balance [of sleep, activity, and nutrition] to make the right choices."
Teyhen and the TATRC team believe they are on the right track in supporting the Surgeon General's initiative, and the next step will be to conduct the proper research to realize Horoho's vision of a much healthier military -- and civilian -- population.
"I believe that if we have our line leaders supporting this movement towards health, then it won't be a medical program, it will be embedded in the DNA of our Army, and that's how it will be long-lasting," said Horoho.