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5210 campaign fights childhood obesity by encouraging better nutrition, less screen time, more exercise

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Military hospitals and clinics are getting some help in the fight against childhood obesity. The 5210 Healthy Military Children campaign, a collaboration between the Department of Defense’s Office for Military Community and Family Policy and the Clearinghouse for Military Family Readiness at Penn State University, provides some valuable tools in the battle. The program encourages children to get five or more servings of fruits and vegetables a day; fewer than two hours of recreational time in front of a TV, tablet, portable video game, or computer screen; one hour of exercise each day; and zero sugary drinks. Officials are promoting education efforts where military families live, work, and play: doctor offices, recreation centers, and schools on base.

“When a new mom-to-be is going through pre-natal classes, we can get messages right into those classes,” said Eddy Mentzer, an associate director for family readiness and well-being within the Office of Military Family Readiness Policy. “We inform parents early to make sure children get what they need.”

Other specific messaging is placed at several locations around military posts and bases.

“For example, at the commissary, if a family knows the 5210 mnemonic and walks through the produce section and sees the logo, it reminds them to pick up fruits and vegetables,” said Mentzer. “We wanted to make it part of people’s lifestyle.”

Yokota Air Base, Japan, served as one of the pilot bases for the program as part of the Healthy Base Initiative, a Department of Defense project launched at 14 test sites in 2013. It promoted diet and exercise as a way to combat tobacco use, obesity, and lack of physical activity among service members and their families. Mentzer said the true value of the 5210 program might not become apparent until long-term drops in obesity are realized, which can take years. But, anecdotally, he’s hearing some good news.

“The area where we’ve seen the most success is screen time,” said Mentzer, a parent and a spouse of an active duty military member. “Parents tell us they are much more aware of the difference between productive and non-productive screen time,” explaining time in front of a computer screen doing math homework, for example, is better than screen time watching a cartoon or video game. “As they enter their teens, we want children to self-regulate between that productive and non-productive activity.”

Military Health System officials believe such awareness impacts readiness today, as well as the future of the force.

According to Military OneSource, about 40 percent of service members have children,” said Dr. Terry Adirim, deputy assistant secretary of Defense for Health Services Policy and Oversight. “And many of those children follow their parents into military service. How they are cared for now is reflected in how they grow up and become functioning members of not just our military community but society as a whole. Taking care of them today is an investment in the future.”

Mentzer said since so many military families live in civilian communities and are seen as role models, it helps people outside the military as well.

“According to the latest Defense Department Status of Forces Survey, about 70 percent of our military families live off the installations in America’s communities,” said Mentzer. “So we’re looking at how we can get this information out to different groups and communities broader than the military landscape.”

The healthy habits ingrained in the children also show up in their moms and dads.

“If they are concerned about what their child is consuming, we’ll see an impact on the parent as well,” said Mentzer. “We want our children, as well as all of our active duty and family members, to have these habits now and in the future.”

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