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Nutritional Needs in Hot Environments: Applications for Military Personnel in Field Operations
U.S. Army Natick Research Development and Engineering Center and the U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine. With one instructive exception, these studies have uniformly found that energy intake in the field is not sufficient, and weight loss occurs.
Of the various military rations, the meal, ready-to-eat (MRE), a general purpose ration designed to be eaten when hot food is not available, has undergone the most thorough testing in the widest variety of circumstances. Table 11-1 shows the composition of the menus in an early version of this ration, the MRE IV. Newer improved versions are similar in configuration, with each meal consisting of an entree, a dessert, a beverage, crackers and a spread, and a starch in some instances. Hot sauce, fruit-flavored beverages, and new or reformulated items as well as larger entrees have replaced many of the items in Table 11-1. MRE IV provided 3669 calories in three meals whereas MRE VIII provides over 3900 calories in three meals.
Table 11-2 shows the results of nine studies conducted with various versions of the MRE fed as the sole source of subsistence for periods ranging from 5 to 34 days, in environments as different as Hawaii and Alaska, and with troops that were relatively inexperienced compared to the highly trained and disciplined U.S. Army Special Forces. Caloric intake and body weight loss varied with the nature of the environment, duration of the test, experience of the participating troops, and version of the MRE tested. However, because of nonsystematic variations across tests, it is impossible to attribute differences in intake and weight loss to these factors independently. What is clear from this table is that energy intake is not sufficient and that weight loss occurs when this ration is fed as the sole source of food. The trend is likely to be even more pronounced in the high heat environment of the desert where the MRE has yet to be tested.
The question arises whether these observations are an immutable fact of military feeding in the field, which those responsible for the health and well-being of troops will have to acknowledge and plan for, or whether their source can be uncovered and the situation can be remedied. What factors are responsible for the underconsumption of operational rations?
WHY IS RATION INTAKE INSUFFICIENT?
Most troops and their leaders would probably explain the inadequate consumption of rations in terms of the nature and quality of the food. However, this is probably not the complete answer for several reasons. First, the various field tests of the MRE have generally shown that troops report the MRE to be acceptable on a 9-point hedonic scale. For example, in a 34-day