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Image of Pentagon oval   United States Department of Defense
News Release

  No. 152-04

2002 Survey of Health Related Behaviors

The Department of Defense today announced the final results of its 2002 Survey of Health Related Behaviors Among Military Personnel. The report shows substantially lower rates in the use of tobacco and illegal drugs since the surveys began measuring certain health-related behaviors in 1980. In addition, there are improvements in certain preventive health measures since 1998. The most recent survey, however, conducted in 2002, showed the first increase in smoking among DoD personnel in the past 20 years.

Dr. William Winkenwerder Jr., assistant secretary of defense for health affairs, stated, "These survey results provide valuable guidance for continued efforts to improve the health and well-being of the men and women of our armed forces."

This survey is the eighth in the series of confidential, anonymous standardized surveys that ask active duty servicemembers about various health behaviors. The survey also assesses selected national health status goals from the Department of Health and Human Services' "Healthy People 2000 and 2010" objectives, the mental health status of the force, and specific health concerns of military women. More than 12,500 servicemembers, randomly selected to represent men and women in all pay grades of the active force throughout the world, completed the survey.

"We are pleased with the continued, observed positive health behavior trends and preventive health practices among our servicemembers," offered Winkenwerder. "It is encouraging that the military met or exceeded one-third of the "Healthy People" goals. Still, we are concerned with the increases in smoking and heavy alcohol use compared with our 1998 results. These findings, along with indicators of stress and other similar mental health indicators, obtained in this survey, are not entirely surprising given the military's role in worldwide events throughout the past two years," he stated.

When comparing the 2002 findings to earlier survey results, we recognize both tremendous improvements in the past 20 years and some issues of concern. Between 1980 and 1998, the survey shows a continuing decline in the use of illegal drugs, alcohol, and cigarettes by military personnel. When first surveyed in 1980, 27.6 percent of the active force acknowledged use of illegal drugs during the month prior to being questioned. In 2002, only 3.4 percent reported using illegal drugs. Heavy drinking (five or more drinks per occasion at least once a week) declined from 20.8 percent in 1980 to 15.4 percent in 1998 but rose again to 18.1 percent in 2002; cigarette smoking declined from 51.0 percent in 1980 to 29.9 percent in 1998 but increased to 33.8 percent in 2002.

Other key findings from the survey include the following:

* Military personnel met or exceeded several of the "Healthy People" objectives, including those for strenuous exercise, seatbelt and helmet use, Pap smears received, and no substance use during last pregnancy. The objectives for overweight, cigarette smoking, smokeless tobacco use, checking blood pressure and cholesterol, hospitalization for injuries, and condom use at last encounter, however, had not yet been met by the entire force, although certain demographic subgroups had met some of the targets. Following the trend in the civilian population, the percentage of overweight DoD personnel in both age categories (under 20 and 20 or older) increased between 1995 and 2002.

* Approximately 90 percent of military personnel had received a dental check-up in the past 12 months, and approximately 90 percent of women who were pregnant in the past five years received their first prenatal care visit in their first trimester.

* Military personnel described their military duties as more stressful than their family or personal lives. The most frequently indicated stressors were family separation (19.1 percent) and deployment (19.0 percent). Personnel with higher levels of stress were more likely than those with lower levels of stress to work below normal performance levels (43.8 percent vs. 25.0 percent) and to incur injuries due to accidents in the work place (14.8 percent vs. 7.3 percent).

* More than 40 percent of military women reported being under a "great deal" or a "fairly large amount" of stress related to being a woman in the military.

* Positive coping strategies were the most common methods of dealing with stress. However, unhealthy behaviors were also identified-more than 40 percent of personnel used food and more than 25 percent used alcohol or cigarettes as a way of coping.

* A strong relationship was observed between heavy alcohol use, productivity loss, and mental health problems. Heavy users of alcohol were much more likely than those who drank infrequently or not at all to report productivity loss (45.1 percent vs. 8.2 percent), as well as problems with work stress (40.1 percent vs. 29.6 percent), and depressive symptoms (26.4 percent vs. 18.0 percent).

* An estimated 65 percent of military personnel indicated that they were "satisfied" or "very satisfied" overall with their current work assignment. Satisfaction varied among the services: Army (60.9 percent); Navy (63.6 percent); Marine Corps (66.3); and Air Force (72 percent). Males and females indicated similar job satisfaction. Approximately 54 percent of personnel would "likely" or "very likely" choose to stay on active duty if given the choice.

Winkenwerder said, "Military leaders and the military health system are committed to enhancing programs to improve healthy behaviors and reduce avoidable stress. We have implemented new programs since this survey was performed, and will be introducing additional programs in the near future. The secretary of defense, with the establishment of the Defense Safety Oversight Council, has made safety, including safe practices and behaviors to reduce injuries and accidents, a top priority for the Department of Defense."

The 2002 survey was conducted under contract by RTI International. The final report and a highlights version are on the worldwide web at: .

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