Dietary, physical activity, and weight management interventions among active-duty military personnel: a systematic review

Ahmad M. Malkawi*, Ree M. Meertens, Stef P. J. Kremers, Ester F. C. Sleddens

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journal(Systematic) Review article peer-review


BackgroundResearch has been conducted to assess the effectiveness of weight management, dietary and physical activity interventions in military settings. However, a recent and comprehensive overview is lacking. The aim of this systematic review is to examine the evidence and describe key components of effective interventions in terms of improving body composition, dietary behaviors, and physical activity among active-duty military personnel.MethodsPubMed, PsycInfo, and CINAHL were searched on the 17th of November 2017 to identify interventions that promoted diet and/or physical activity among active-duty military personnel. Studies were included if they assessed outcomes related to anthropometric measurements, dietary behaviors, or fitness/physical activity levels. There were no restrictions regarding publication date, follow-up duration, and sex. After screening, a total of 136 studies were eligible. Of these studies, 38 included an educational and/or behavioral change component, and 98 had only physical or fitness training as part of basic military training. Only studies that included an educational and/or behavioral change component were assessed for quality using the Effective Public Health Practice Project tool and included in the qualitative synthesis of the results.ResultsBased on consistent evidence from studies that were rated as moderate or strong, there is good evidence that military weight management interventions are effective in improving body composition for durations of up to 12months. Effective interventions are more likely to be high intensity (have a greater number of sessions), are more often delivered by specialists, and use theoretical base/behavioral change techniques and a standardized guideline. Dietary interventions can potentially reduce total fat and saturated fat intake. Dietary interventions that target the kitchen staff and/or increase the availability of healthy food are more likely to be effective in the short term. The results regarding military physical fitness interventions were inconclusive.ConclusionDespite limitations such as the diversity and heterogeneity of the included interventions, outcome measurements, and follow-up duration, this systematic review found good evidence that weight management interventions are effective, especially in terms of weight loss. More studies are needed to acquire solid evidence for effectiveness for durations longer than 12months and to identify key components of the effective dietary and physical activity educational and/or behavioral change interventions, especially in countries outside Europe and the US.

Original languageEnglish
Article number43
Number of pages12
JournalMilitary Medical Research
Publication statusPublished - 24 Dec 2018


  • Dietary
  • Physical activity
  • Weight loss
  • Interventions
  • Military
  • Systematic review

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