Another sacrifice the military makes
While 55% of civilians had ideal blood pressure, only 30% of soldiers did, according to a new study comparing the heart health of more than 263,000 active duty U.S. Army soldiers with a similar number of civilians.
The study looked at 2012 health examinations. It reviewed four criteria — tobacco use, weight, diabetes and blood pressure — and labeled the health level for each factor as either ideal, intermediate or poor. More military members were deemed in ideal shape for tobacco use and risk of diabetes, while one-third of the military and civilian groups had ideal weight.
The finding that only 30% of soldiers had idea blood pressure is another reminder of the toll tied to military service — a duty with immense physical dangers that can leave some scarred with post-traumatic stress disorder. In, fact the Journal of the American Heart Association study was published Wednesday, a day ahead of the 75th anniversary of D-Day, when 156,000 American, British, French and Canadian soldiers landed on the beaches of Normandy, France. More than 4,000 Allied troops were confirmed killed June 6, 1944 and over 9,000 were wounded or missing. Many of the soldiers who survived the day would never talk about it afterwards.
Researchers acknowledged they were surprised by the conclusions — particularly the results on blood pressure.
“Because recruits are screened to exclude high blood pressure and maintaining physical fitness is a major focus for the Army, we expected lower, not higher, blood pressure in the Army,” said lead author, Dr. Darwin Labarthe, a professor of preventive medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, Illinois.
The study didn’t dig into the reasons for the differences in blood pressure, but Labarthe said “further analyses should address nutrition and physical activity, as well as possible effects of deployment experience. Ultimately, we need to help our soldiers become heart healthy.”
The study looked at four factors, but the American Heart Association says there are three additional ways to gauge heart health — diet score, physical activity and total blood cholesterol. The study noted Army data at the 2012 sampling time did not include information related to the three factors.
For starters, it would be an understatement to call military duty a stressful job — and some studies have drawn the link between stress and elevated blood pressure.
Army life is packed with high-stakes situations, and it also doesn’t offer a lot of time for shuteye. While researchers recommend eight hours of sleep, many in the military get far less than that. Blood pressure can shoot up in the wake of a poor night’s sleep, some researchers have shown.
Related to the lack of sleep, another clue on higher blood pressure might be the energy drinks that some soldiers drink to stay awake and alert. The drinks are prevalent in the military, but a recent study said drinking 32 ounces could spark the risk of electrical disturbances in the heart. The American Beverage Association, a trade group for the soft drink industry, has previously said millions of consumers have safely consumed energy drinks for more than 30 years. Food safety agencies allow the drinks in the market and beverage makers go beyond labeling requirements to emphasize the drinks are not meant for consumers include children and pregnant women, the ABA has said.
A 2018 study on energy drinks in the military determined top brass needs to send the message that “moderation is critical.”
The new heart health study, while concerning, evaluated patient health data in 2012. Military attitudes on key issues related to blood pressure, such as sleep, could be changing. For one thing, the Army is now emphasizing the importance of a good night’s sleep and proper nutrition in an initiative it calls the Performance Triad.
The Army did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the study. Some research has shown that people who want to improve their blood pressure can follow a Dash diet. Dash is an acronym for Diet Approaches to Stop Hypertension. The eating plan calls for consuming fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole grains, poultry, fish and low-fat dairy products, while cutting salt, red meat, sweets and sugar-sweetened beverages. It is very similar to the Mediterranean diet, but the Dash diet recommends reducing two more things: full cream (in favor of low-fat dairy products) and alcoholic beverages.
Some research has shown that people who want to improve their blood pressure can follow a Dash diet. Dash is an acronym for Diet Approaches to Stop Hypertension. The eating plan calls for consuming fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole grains, poultry, fish and low-fat dairy products, while cutting salt, red meat, sweets and sugar-sweetened beverages. It is very similar to the Mediterranean diet, but the Dash diet recommends reducing two more things: full cream (in favor of low-fat dairy products) and alcoholic beverages.