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LEXINGTON, Kentucky (July 28, 2022) — A 2020 study by the Public Health Center Santé de la Force-Armée found that one in five military service members were classified as obese and had difficulty meeting Army fitness and weight standards. One of the main culprits is the lack of knowledge about healthy food options in post. In response, the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, Food and Environment uses innovative and interactive technology to help solve this problem.

Alison Gustafson from UK Department of Dietetics and Human Nutrition said new approaches are needed to help staff, especially new hires, maintain a healthy weight. In his recent collaborative study with the University of North Carolina at the Greensboro Department of Nutrition, Gustafson used innovative technologies such as Bluetooth beacons, hardware transmitters that broadcast their ID to nearby portable electronic devices, and geofencing, which sends geo-targeted messages in real time to cell phones that enter a designated space, to help service members improve their eating habits.

“There is a lack of published research regarding the viability of this strategy for encouraging healthy behavior in retail settings, particularly in the military,” Gustafson said. “As a result, we decided to conduct a formative feasibility study in Fort Bragg to better understand the development, interest and implementation of this type of outreach. “EatWellNow” is essentially a behavioral nudge to make healthier choices. »

The project team developed an interactive Bluetooth messaging system to send healthy reminders to fast food areas on the North Carolina base. This interactive experience used an app created by the team called “EatWellNow”. During the study, 2,621 users installed the “EatWellNow” app and received push alerts when they were within 10 feet of a retail area.

Researchers created a virtual “fence” around food retail sites as an initial layer of engagement. When a soldier entered the virtual fence based on the cellular data signal, he began to see passive notifications on smartphone apps and websites when he was at the restoration site and when he left the virtual closing, up to 30 days.

“We had a very high success rate,” Gustafson said. “About 65% of participants liked receiving the messages. It was location specific, which means we know it worked. We’ve found that these new notification methods help soldiers make a different choice about where they shop and buy food. »

Gustafson said the multitude of fast food options on base caused soldiers to gain weight, making them unsuitable for active duty. According to the Centers for Disease Control and PreventionObesity costs the US Department of Defense more than $1 billion each year in health care expenditures for active duty military personnel, veterans and their families.

Gustafson said the Fort Bragg study was just the beginning of technological reminders for the public. Fort Campbell, Kentucky will be the next study location with the ultimate goal of making the program accessible to the general public.

“I’ve had a long interest in text messaging intervention,” Gustafson said. “I think it’s a great way for people to make healthier choices, and I’m excited for what the future of this technology holds.”

This material is based on work supported by, or in part by, the U.S. Army Telemedicine and Advanced Technology Research Center under award number 9180. All opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the US Army Medical Research and Development Command.