Marines and Sailors Arent Eating Their Spinach

From the Army Times.

Some troops need more iron, less stress, health study says
Hypertension, anemia are among concerns

By Kelly Kennedy - Staff writer
Posted : February 19, 2007

They may be strong to the finish, but Marines aren’t eating their spinach.

And soldiers? They’re definitely sweating the small stuff.

A recent study of seemingly healthy service members reporting for annual medical exams found that of those who had abnormal test results, Marines and sailors were more likely to be anemic than to have other health problems, while soldiers and airmen were most likely to have hypertension.

The study looked at 19 million reports from 1998 to 2006. Researchers at the U.S. Army Center for Health Promotion and Preventive Medicine, which conducts research on all the services, hoped to determine whether it is worthwhile for troops to have annual medical exams, even if nothing is obviously wrong. The study did not include people who went in for a specific injury, illness or complaint.

Of those 19 million reports, 202,977 came back with abnormal results — about 1 percent. Even so, researchers determined that the 200,000 who had hypertension, anemia, bad Pap smears, undiagnosed heart murmurs, breast lumps or bloody stools were probably glad they went in for Preventive Maintenance Checks and Services.

Digging deeper into the data, researchers found:

• Combat troops were less likely to have any problems, with one out of every 139.3 exams finding something abnormal. The overall average was one out of every 93 exams.

• One of every 41.4 service members older than 50 had abnormal results.

• One of every 47.6 female service members had abnormal results.

• One of every 64 black or Hispanic service members had abnormal results.

Abnormal results did not necessarily mean the service members were ill, only that they needed further examination.

Though most of the findings aren’t unusual, they may prove to be a good warning for other service members in similar groups.

For example, 15,677 men and 13,147 women were found to be anemic, or have an iron deficiency. Anemia causes fatigue, dizziness, headaches and difficulty breathing, mainly because it robs the blood of its ability to transport oxygen.

James McClung, who studies mineral deficiencies at the Army Research Institute for Environmental Medicine, said young women and athletes tend to need more iron. Women lose iron through their menstrual cycles every month, and no one is sure why athletes lose iron, though it could be through sweat, he said.

“When female soldiers get to basic combat training, their iron levels are similar to the American population,” he said. But when those women get out of basic training, they tend to have lower levels of iron, he said.

Diet plays a part

Part of that could be their food choices: If the mess hall is serving fried chicken and mashed potatoes, 20-year-old service members may pass up the spinach.

However, it is unusual for men to be anemic, he said.

“The really nice thing about iron deficiency is one can actually prevent it and treat it in a very simple way,” McClung said. “In the Army, we’re actually providing the diet.”

Though McClung specifically studied female soldiers going through basic training, the results affect what goes into Meals, Ready-to-Eat and chow-hall dinners.

And stress — a main cause of hypertension — was one of the main topics of conversation at the recent annual Military Health System conference. Symptoms of hypertension include fatigue, confusion, vision changes and, most important, heart failure. It often has no symptoms, however. It can be caused by alcohol, smoking, salt and being overweight.

Stress ‘affects mission’

Air Force Lt. Col. Steven Pflanz, senior psychiatry policy analyst for the Air Force Medical Operations Agency, said airmen report their No. 1 cause of stress is their jobs, and part of that is because of the military mentality.

“We think we need to suck it up and move,” he said. “But what we’re discovering is that it affects the mission.”

And they gave a stream of stressors: inadequate staffing, work overload, long work hours, not enough time with their families and deploying to Iraq and Afghanistan.

Pflanz said it’s important for people to understand the consequences of stress — and to not be afraid to seek counseling to learn how to deal with it.

But his best advice, he said, is the same advice any doctor would offer.

“The healthiest people — the people who are coping the best — are the people who are exercising,” he said.

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