A new study in the American Journal of Health Promotion finds that the lifestyle of veterans both pre- and post-deployment influences their post-deployment wellness.
Previous research has shown that U.S. service members are usually healthier than the general population. The new study shows that wellness of veterans was associated with modifiable lifestyle behaviors such as physical activity, strength training, smoking abstinence and healthy BMI. However, the stress associated with deployment, especially combat, can result in reduced mental health, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and a negative sense of well-being.
Lead author Melissa Bagwell, MPH, with colleagues at the Department of Deployment Health Research at the Naval Health Research Center in San Diego, CA, utilized questionnaire data of 10,228 veterans who served in Iraq or Afghanistan, collected as part of the Millennium Cohort Study. The Millennium Cohort Study, an ongoing longitudinal study of more than 150,000 participants, is designed to evaluate long-term health effects of military service, including deployments. It is the largest population-based prospective health project in U.S. military history.
The researchers evaluated a wide range of factors that potentially predicted post-deployment wellness, including both non-modifiable and modifiable factors. The non-modifiable pre-deployment factors included having a disease, life stressors, demographics, and military-specific characteristics, such as service branch and occupation.
Modifiable pre-deployment factors included mental disorders, self-reported height and weight and body mass index (BMI), behaviors like smoking and drinking, plus use of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM).