By Jonathon Woodson, MD, assistant Secretary of Defense (Health Affairs) and director, TRICARE Management Activity
Two years ago, the White House issued its National Prevention and Health Promotion Strategy, a comprehensive plan designed to help increase the number of Americans who are healthy at every stage of life. Established under the Affordable Care Act, this strategy aims to move the nation away from a healthcare system focused on sickness and disease and toward one focused on wellness and prevention.
In support of the National Prevention Strategy and the Military Health System’s Quadruple Aim, which focuses on enhanced readiness, improved population health, better experience of care and responsibly managed costs, the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs/TRICARE Management Activity created Operation Live Well.
Operation Live Well is a Department of Defense education, outreach and behavior-change initiative designed to improve the health and well-being of members of the defense community. From active duty and reserve servicemembers, to military children, spouses, retirees and DoD civilians, the initiative aims to help the military community strive for ideal health standards and serve as a model for the nation.
Operation Live Well is a multiyear effort bringing together the resources and capabilities of the entire local community — commanders, health and medical experts, commissaries and dining facilities, education resources, and morale, welfare and recreation programs. Together, we will support our community’s journey from “healthcare to health,” particularly focusing on the areas of weight management, tobacco avoidance and mental wellness.
We are using a three-phase approach in implementing the initiative, beginning with an education, information and outreach campaign. Phase two will involve an evaluation of the projects derived from the initiative and promotion of the tools that proved most effective. The final phase will be a long-term effort that institutes permanent behavior change in which healthy living becomes the easy choice and social norm.
In my 2012 Stakeholders Report, I stated that the nation’s challenges extend from the battlefield to the budget, and that simple and simplistic cost-cutting exercises will not suffice. Our readiness mission always has required that we maintain a fit and healthy fighting force. Now, we are focused on maintaining fitness and health for all 9.6 million people we serve.
DoD estimates that 75 percent of all Americans ages 17-24 are unable to join the military because they are physically unfit, among other factors. In fact, obesity has become the leading medical disqualifier from military service, with 1 in 4 young Americans being too heavy to serve. Between 2006 and 2011, the military reported that 62,000 recruits failed their entrance physicals, solely due to their weight.
Obesity also impacts those who have already enlisted. In a single year, the military discharged more than 1,200 first-term enlistees before their contracts were up due to weight problems. DoD spends more than $1 billion a year on obesity-related medical costs through TRICARE.
Operation Live Well aims to provide long-term healthcare cost savings to DoD by reducing or eliminating the amount of dollars spent on the treatment of preventable diseases and conditions. The initiative also will provide opportunities for the services to combine resources for greater efficiencies and will align its efforts with other federal agencies that have embraced the National Prevention strategy
We must utilize a “Whole Family” approach across the services in this promotion of healthy living. By implementing policy, systems and environmental changes, we will prepare our communities for success in changing their behaviors and leading healthier lives.
We want to encourage individuals to actively engage in every aspect of healthy living, including proper nutrition and healthy eating, exercise, mental health and resilience, and tobacco avoidance and cessation. This, in turn, will lead to a more ready, resilient and healthy armed forces and military community.
By offering Internet-based resources such as our portal on Military One Source and our social media pages on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and YouTube, we are reaching out to all of our audiences in promoting healthy living. The entire military community will have access to helpful information, tools and resources and will be able to provide feedback not only on what is working, but also what is not.
We also will employ a rigorous process for assessing programs for effectiveness, eliminating or altering less-effective programs and replicating or expanding those which show the most promise. In the long run, we aim to reduce the long-term costs of treating preventable diseases, prevent our youth from engaging in risky behaviors and build resilient communities.
A culture of healthy behaviors is essential to our nation’s readiness. By pooling and sharing our information, resources and best practices under Operation Live Well, we can become the preeminent, medically ready force of the future.