Healthy eating initiative at Air Force Academy designed to promote fitness, readiness

  • Published
  • By Laurie Wilson
  • U.S. Air Force Academy Public Affairs

U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. -- Each year, more than 1,200 first-term enlisted service members are let go from the Defense Department for failure to meet weight standards.

The Air Force Academy is working to decrease this number with its Smart Fueling Initiative.

“We spend enormous time and energy conducting our physical training, but we also need to be training our cadets and Airmen how to fuel their bodies,” said Academy Superintendent Lt. Gen. Jay Silveria.

The Academy is the flagship Air Force installation for the DOD’s Smart Fueling Initiative.

Col. Shawn Campbell, 10th Air Base Wing commander, said the Academy’s leadership wants to actualize a cultural shift to positively affect all Academy community members by teaching them to think about “fueling for performance.”

“There is a clear link between improved performance and Smart Fueling [eating],” Campbell said. “Fueling for performance enables top-level performance; increases energy and endurance; reduces vulnerability to illness and injury; shortens recovery time between activities; improves focus and concentration; and increases academic achievement.”

The Academy hopes to meet the DOD’s goals of a healthier military by “nudging” consumers to purchase and eat healthier items, Campbell said.

Smart Fueling means increasing fruit and vegetable intake, as well as eating “nutrient dense” foods like whole grains. Smart Fueling’s “Go for Green” labeling system helps consumers know which items are the healthiest by marking them on signage with a green check.

The ‘Rollout’

Phase one was completed in January, beginning with an improved menu and Grab-and-Go options at the Academy Lanes Bowling Center, High Country Inn and in Mitchell Hall. These food options include shaker salads, yogurt parfaits, prepared sandwiches, nutrition bars and drinks outside regular dining hours.

According to a 2018 Dedicated Survey and Assessment Time survey, cadets wanted more food available outside of current hours of operation, especially healthy options. The Falcon Express received rave reviews from cadets in the first week of implementation and had nearly 2800 visits, according to Beth Claude, 10th Force Support Squadron operations officer.

Phase two begins later this spring and includes improved menus at Polaris Perk in Arnold Hall, the Eisenhower Golf Club, the Falcon Club and Hap’s. The redesigned menus will include new salads and sandwiches and the ability to “build your own bowl,” burger or wrap, along with fruit and salad sides. Polaris Perk will also make architectural improvements to better serve consumers.

Phase three is slated to include broader dining opportunities for cadets, Prep School cadet candidates, and the entire Academy population. Cooking classes will eventually be available at Mitchell Hall to encourage cadets to learn healthy cooking skills.

Campbell credits "Team Ten’s" 10th Force Support Squadron with working tirelessly to redesign menus in close coordination with the cadet dietician and to provide educational signage that clearly highlights healthier food options for cadets, Team Ten Airmen and their families.

Building Consistency

The “ecosystem” of Smart Fueling, as Campbell calls it, includes the Main Exchange and the Commissary as well.

The exchange created the “Be Fit” program in 2015. Healthy options can be found in Be Fit sections at all Main Exchanges. The Commissary launched their Nutrition Guide Program at roughly the same time, offering “Thinking Outside the Box” home meal kits.

Both Air Force Exchange Service organizations’ efforts now fall under the Smart Fueling Initiative. The commissary will eventually expand their Grab-and-Go selection, enhance their deli options and offer ready-to-go cooked meals.

Campbell said all Total Force Airmen have a role in improving readiness, recruitment and retention. Smart Fueling is one way that cadets, active duty, spouses, civilians, and retirees can better secure this outcome in themselves, he said.