Sunday, June 12, 2011
I don't often talk much about my job here, but this week was a big one for me. I am the Project Director for a study on bone health in active duty soldiers. Wednesday, Thursday and Friday we were scheduled to collect data on 200 Soldiers.
What I mean by data collection is something like this:
Soldiers scheduled to arrive at 6:30 am (which meant I got up at 4am every day-- so much fun).
From 6:30-7:30 I would give a powerpoint presentation outlining what we are studying, what they would have to do, making sure they are eligible (they have to be about to deploy, 30 years old or under, and not have any current bone diseases or fractures-- oh, and if they are female they can't be pregnant, but normally pregnant women don't deploy so that wasn't too much of an issue). They also can just choose not to participate if they don't want to.
After that I spent about 20 minutes going over very basic nutrition information: i.e. soldiers rely on their bodies to perform, and the department of defense is very specific about how much body fat they can have etc. I talk briefly about the healthy plate model, how you can tell if a food is healthy (basically, the closer it is to how it came from the ground, the better. They all laugh when I tell them there's no such thing as a twinkie tree). Then I talk about bone health, how things like smoking, too much alcohol, not exercising and not eating properly is bad for their bones, and talk about both dairy and non-dairy sources of calcium. I wrap that up with some tips on making better choices in a fast food restaurants. It isn't very comprehensive-- just a baseline of tidbits. Fortunately I could talk about whatever I wanted so I didn't have to cover the food pyramid, but I also couldn't really do paleo-- it had to be somewhat mainstream and extremely basic, especially since these guys are really only going to have access to whatever is in the cafeteria when they deploy and most of them eat so much crap anyway that we are starting from an extreme baseline.
Next we collect their blood to measure things like blood calcium, thyroid hormones, vitamin D and a few other markers of bone turnover.
Then in groups of 10 they go through the following stations:
-filling out 2 surveys on exercise and diet, which are extremely long
-getting their height/weight/waist circumference measured
-body fat measurement
-measuring their resting energy expenditure using an indirect calorimeter-- a small device you breathe into for 10 minutes and it uses how much oxygen you expel to estimate how many calories you burn at rest.
-Heel Bone density, which is measured with a machine that takes an ultrasound of the heel (my bone density is not good, by the way! Likely from years of absorption issues. I have mild osteopenia, which is apparently common in people with gluten intolerances/celiac.)
At the end of all this they get a gift card for $25 and are sent on their way. When they return from deployment we will do it all again. Half of them will receive online diet coaching by yours truly for the year they are deployed. The other half will not. At the end of the year we will be able to see if the coaching made any difference in their health.
The first day everything went beautifully. The 50 soldiers we expected showed up, on time, only 4 were ineligible, all of them returned when I told them to (since we could only handle 10 soldiers at a time they were assigned to come back at various points of the day). I had a great team of my boss, two co-workers, four army nurses, four dietetic interns and their instructor helping run all the teams. It went perfectly. Unfortunately the next two days we only had 20 soldiers show up each day, late,-- Thursday we expected 50 and Friday we were supposed to have 100! So that was disappointing-- I thought we would be totally done by now, and instead we have to do another group in a couple of weeks to get enough participants.
It was absolutely exhausting. I didn't really have any way to refrigerate anything and I was staying in a hotel since my house is quite far from base and I had to be there at 5:30 in the morning so my food options were not great. I mostly ate trail mix to keep me from passing out and then after we finished for the day I'd go to Panera or Chipotle and get some kind of chicken salad. I had wished I'd brought beef jerky, but didn't think of it-- next time I definitely will.
Fortunately this week will be much more mellow and I can get back to my normal routine.