Nutrition workgroup awards local food facilities for healthy eating menus, options

Photo By Eric Pilgrim | The Wilson Express shoppette at Fort Knox earned a silver category recognition for its display of fresh fruits near the checkout for those who don’t have time to cook a meal during lunchtime or after work. (Photo courtesy of Laura Bottoms)



Story by Eric Pilgrim 

Fort Knox  

FORT KNOX, Ky. — A local group of health experts recently conducted their annual assessment of food restaurants and facilities at Fort Knox with a new outcome in mind.

Picked by Army Public Health Command to beta test a new way of assessing overall physical health, the team, called the Nutrition Environment Workgroup, conducted surveys of several food facilities around Fort Knox based on categories and their availability of healthy options.

“The Army is undergoing an initiative, called ‘Healthy Army Communities,’ with the goal of trying to improve the health of the community that we live in,” said Laura Bottoms, chief of Nutrition Services, Ireland Army Health Clinic. “One of the main challenges for that is interviewing the food environment on the installation.”

The Physical Readiness Workgroup, part of the Commander’s Ready and Resilient Council, is focused on assisting the installation community members with improving access to healthy foods. Bottoms leads their efforts.

One of those efforts involves an annual risk and needs assessment of the food environment at the installation. Bottoms and her workgroup have been surveying the nutrition environment food facilities since 2015. This year is the first time they’ve categorized the facilities.

“Part of our desire is to highlight those locations that did well,” said Bottoms. “They made efforts to offer healthier options, so we want to brag on those locations. These ‘better for you’ choices coincide with the Army’s branding of the program.”

The program divides healthy choice awards into four categories: platinum, gold, silver and bronze. Bottoms said she and her team use what is known as the Military Nutrition Environment Assessment Tool, or mNEAT, to categorize the facilities.

The tool breaks down healthy choices into five focus areas: policy, economics, healthy messaging, food availability and choice architecture, which refers to the quality and accessibility of “better for you” foods.

The workgroup targeted nine sections during their judging period: the commissary, express stores, Directorate of Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation restaurants, fast-food restaurants, the dining facilities, vending, community, worksite policies at the installation level, and food trucks.

The categories are based on a percentage of healthy eating criteria. The questions are tailored to each category and are broken down to food policy, availability and behavioral design, which refers to ease of finding products. To earn the platinum recognition, a facility has to score 90% or better; 80-89.9% for gold, 70-79.9% for silver, and 60-69.9% for bronze. No facilities this year earned a spot in the top two categories.

The “better-for-you” criteria is patterned after the dietary guidelines for Americans, according to Bottoms, which factors in total fat, saturated fat, sodium, calories, and fiber, to name a few.

Claiming the overall top spot at Fort Knox, in the silver category with a 77.6% rating, is the commissary. Also in the silver category is the Wilson Express.

“The commissary has a grab-and-go section in the front of the store when you walk right in, where you can grab things to make salads, and sandwiches and things that are going to be within those categories.”

Two facilities landed the bronze category: the Mini Mall Express on Eisenhower Avenue and the Express on Wilson Road, both of which gave all the Express shoppettes an overall score of 66.4%.

“Some of the highlights were that they had fresh and pre-cut fruits available,” said Bottoms. “They had healthier, better-for-you items near the checkout, like peanut butter cups, trail mix, jerky and little grab-and-go veggies. It’s a great place to go if you need to get a healthier snack.”

The Army and Air Force Exchange Service hosts a program that began in 2009 called BeFit, which, according to their website, is an effort to encourage Soldiers, Airmen and their Families to live a better quality, more active lifestyle to promote resilience.

Bottoms said AAFES’ corporate efforts nest well with what her team is attempting to accomplish.

Rounding out this year’s awards, also with a bronze, is Fiddlers’ Green at the Saber & Quill. They scored 64%.

“They have an entire menu there that highlights healthier options,” said Bottoms. “They have fresh fruit available on the side as well.”

Bottoms said all this effort has a bottom line.

“We are now getting together to develop action plans that will further improve the options available at the other locations on the installation,” said Bottoms. “Hopefully, by the time we do this next year, we will have more bronze, and more silver, and maybe some gold and a platinum, which will make more and more better-for-you options available for our Soldiers.”

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