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Not Eating Enough: Overcoming Underconsumption of Military Operational Rations 22 A Plan to Overcome Ration Underconsumption Edward Hirsch1 Not Eating Enough, 1995 Pp. 411–415. Washington, D.C. National Academy Press INTRODUCTION The chapters in this book illustrate the complexity of the ration underconsumption problem and the broad range of variables that are potentially relevant to its solution. From the perspective of trying to integrate this information into a coherent plan, one is struck by the contrast between the range of variables that bear on this issue and the potential difficulty in transporting these findings and concepts to the military field feeding environment. For this reason any plan that addresses the issue of inadequate food intake in troops fed operational rations must include input from all the military agencies involved in field feeding policy, ration development, training, nutritional guidelines, and logistics. In addition, it is also important to seek advice from senior food service personnel and military commanders about whether variables that have been shown to enhance food intake in controlled settings can realistically be applied in a military field feeding context. 1 Edward Hirsch, Behavioral Sciences Division, U.S. Army Natick Research, Development and Engineering Center, Natick, MA 01760–5007
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Not Eating Enough: Overcoming Underconsumption of Military Operational Rations PROPOSED PLAN The factors that affect troop ration consumption and acceptance can be broadly classified into two categories: those related to the rations and those directed toward modifying the field eating environment in some manner. Table 22-1 shows an arrangement of these variables in a manner that emphasizes this distinction. Note that most of the factors in the table represent a broad class of variables and possible manipulations. The table also indicates whether there is evidence of increased food consumption and improved customer satisfaction after treatments. The Yes-No entries in the second column are based on laboratory and field experiments or correlational data from the field. A ''Yes" entry only indicates there is at least one positive outcome when the variable under consideration has been examined. TABLE 22-1 Strategies for Improving Ration Consumption and Acceptance Proposed Manipulations Has Positive Effect Been Demonstrated? Relevant Authors (Chapter Number) 1. Factors related to rations A. New ration Yes Baker-Fulco (8), Hirsch (9) B. Broad variety in ration system Indirectly Rolls (11), Hirsch (9) C. Variety of caloric drinks Yes Engell (12) D. Marketing No Thompson (13), Cardello (10) E. Social modeling Yes Cardello (10), de Castro (20) 2. Factors related to conditions in the field A. Favorable deployment No Kramer (17) B. Scheduled meals and snacks No Halberg et al. (19), Kramer (17), Schutz (18) C. Sheltered from elements while eating No Kramer (17) D. Group eating Yes de Castro (20) E. Ensure hydration Yes Engell (12) F. Easy ration and beverage heating Yes Kramer (17)
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Not Eating Enough: Overcoming Underconsumption of Military Operational Rations The dichotomy between factors relevant to the feeding environment and those having to do with the rations also holds when considering which variables appear ready for immediate evaluation as opposed to those that require more time or research before they can be implemented. In this author's view, most of the factors having to do with the feeding environment are well defined and circumscribed in scope. They could be implemented by field commanders and evaluated almost immediately. Conversely, designing a new ration or increasing variety in a current ration (Table 22-1, items 1A, B, and C) imposes the time delay associated with product development. Similarly any effort to market a ration (1D) or to use the social modeling influences of peers and leaders (1E) to affect troop attitudes and consumption only make sense in the context of introducing a new or a much-revised ration. Attempts to alter troop views of a ration that has been shaped, perhaps inalterably, by extensive experience are destined to fail. For this reason efforts to use marketing techniques or social influences require a new ration. In addition, these latter variables, marketing and social influences, although potentially powerful determinants of troop attitudes and behavior, have not been thoroughly researched in the military context. Employing these variables effectively in the military environment will require additional research and/or consultation with marketing and communication experts from the commercial and academic sectors. The preceding analysis indicates the need for a plan with both short-term and long-term components. In the short term, emphasis will be placed on the field feeding environment, whereas over a longer term the focus will be placed on variables related to rations. Short-Term Plans The first step of the plan will be to hold discussions with senior food service personnel, experienced noncommissioned officers, and field commanders to explore ways to define clearly and implement the factors related to feeding in the field (Table 22-1, items 2A-F). Once consensus is reached on the feasibility and definition of these variables, a field test will be planned and conducted. The most current ration heating and liquid heating devices (2F) will also be included in this field test. Although it would be preferable to test each of these factors separately to isolate whether they are effective by themselves, several considerations argue against this approach. First, recent reductions in training funds have made it increasingly difficult to find troops to participate in field studies of sufficient duration to evaluate troop food intake adequately in response to changes in rations or, in this case, feeding conditions. It is best to maximize the likelihood of success in any field test. Second, ration field tests are most likely to succeed when the test involves the fewest number of units being exposed to different
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Not Eating Enough: Overcoming Underconsumption of Military Operational Rations treatments. Third, the types of changes in field feeding that are being tested are not costly and only require informed leadership to create a favorable feeding environment. For these reasons a less-than-perfect experiment is proposed where one company would be exposed to the full array of changes in the way troops are fed in the field (Table 22-1, items 2A-F). A second company in the same training exercise, with similar activities, would serve as the control group. Both companies would be fed the same ration. To test the role of these situational variables, the current version of a ration or a new one could be used. Ideally this ration would be the most current version of the Meal, Ready-to-Eat (MRE) fed for 3 meals per day for at least 10 days. A group fed 3 MREs/d is more likely to be sensitive to the variables being tested than a group fed a ration mix with hot meals. The nature of hot meals in the field brings troops together in a manner that imposes many of the factors that are being used to improve ration consumption. Also, high intake of a hot meal leaves less margin for improvement in the other meals and renders one of the dependent measures in the test less sensitive. This field experiment would follow what has become the standard procedure for evaluating military rations. Measures of body weight, food intake, fluid intake, hydration status, and food acceptance would be taken periodically during the training exercise. Troop reactions to the rations and feeding environment would be assessed by final questionnaires and focus groups (see Baker-Fulco and Hirsch, Chapters 8 and 9 in this volume). A successful outcome in a field study with either a current ration or a new ration would provide strong evidence for the collective influence of these manipulations on ration intake. In the case where a current ration was tested, these changes would have to overcome the steady downward trend in consumption that Kramer (Chapter 17 in this volume) has noted when the same version of the MRE is examined across time in different studies. With a new ration, or a ration that has undergone major modifications, these changes in the feeding environment would have to produce larger changes in food intake and consumer acceptance responses than would be expected from a new product alone (see Baker-Fulco and Hirsch, Chapters 8 and 9 in this volume). The findings from this study would be brought to the appropriate military agencies for them to consider how these findings could be incorporated into field feeding policy, doctrine, or troop and leadership training to ensure an environment that encourages ration consumption. Long-Range Plans The long-range elements of this plan are contingent on both ration development (Table 22-1, items 1A, B, and C) and programmatic research on
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Not Eating Enough: Overcoming Underconsumption of Military Operational Rations marketing and social modeling effects (Table 22-1, items 1D and E). For this reason they are tentative and will be outlined in broad terms. The global strategy for addressing ration-related approaches to overcoming underconsumption is to apply both marketing and social influence to new or revised rations as they become available. When a new product has been developed, ongoing research in these areas will have to be evaluated to judge whether enough has been learned about these factors in a military context to launch a program where they would be used to enhance troop responses to a new ration. Although it is of considerable interest to determine whether troop responses to a new ration are affected by these factors, it is even more critical to determine whether the successful application of marketing and social influence can sustain the initial high level of acceptance and consumption over many field training exercises. Similarly, when attention is directed toward beverage and food variety in a ration (Table 22-1, items 1D and E), the central question is whether high initial acceptance and consumption are sustained by variety in later encounters with the ration in its second or third year. These long-term considerations suggest a new type of ration testing strategy where a test unit will be monitored periodically from the time a new ration is introduced until several years later. Success in either the short- or long-term components of this plan will eventually mean that the most successful and cost-effective elements of both programs will be combined and institutionalized through policy and training. CONCLUSION The proposal outlined in this chapter represents one of many possible approaches to correcting the ration underconsumption problem. A full discussion of these issues, refinement of the experimental manipulations, and their testing and implementation will call for the concerted effort of many individuals and organizations. This book is a provocative first step in that direction.
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