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Armed Forces: Nutrition

Volume 503: debated on Wednesday 6 January 2010

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence (1) what research his Department has commissioned on the nutritional status of servicemen (a) in theatre and (b) returning from theatre; (304835)

(2) what estimate his Department has made of the minimum daily intake of calories required by an infantry soldier on active service in Afghanistan;

(3) what arrangements exist to monitor the health of service personnel whose diet has been limited solely to field rations for more than the recommended continuous exposure period; and if he will make a statement;

(4) what assessment he has made of the number of members of the armed forces living off field rations beyond the recommended continuous exposure periods; and if he will make a statement;

(5) what arrangements exist to monitor exposure to field rations beyond recommended limits; and if he will make a statement;

(6) what the recommended time limit is on exposure to each in-use type of field rations; and if he will make a statement.

[holding answer 7 December 2009]: The health of armed forces personnel on operations is subject to a continuous process of evidence gathering and monitoring. Two specific programmes of work are currently being undertaken to ensure that the food provided for the armed forces on operations is nutritionally fit for purpose: the Surgeon General’s Armed Forces Feeding Project (SGAFFP) and the Surgeon General’s Casualty Nutrition Study (SG CNS).

The SGAFFP is looking at MOD nutrition and feeding policy across the three services, both pre-deployment in UK-based units and during overseas deployments. In parallel, the SG CNS is examining dietary intake, change in body shape/body composition, micronutrient status and physical fitness before, during and after an operational deployment in healthy personnel and in those who experience combat trauma.

Ensuring that deployed personnel have the right food to provide them with the nutritional intake they need to carry out their operational roles involves much more than just making sure there is plenty of it available at all times. The SGAFFP study is collecting data on actual energy expenditures of personnel undertaking operational roles and on analyses of the tasks being undertaken and work-rest patterns. It will also gather data on changes in body shape (i.e. height, body mass, skin-folds and body girths), physical fitness and dietary intake. In addition, contextual data are being collated describing logistic supply chains and information describing the accessibility and desirability of food provision.

A preliminary review of initial work undertaken, which specifically collated data from personnel undertaking the more physically demanding operational roles under hot environmental conditions, has found no evidence to suggest that personnel in general are being underfed. Although supply chains may at times become compromised such that fresh rations are limited or not available, this has not prevented adequate provision of food to personnel on the frontline, including in 24-hour ration packs. A full analysis of the measurements is progressing.

Joint Service Publication (JSP) 456—Defence Catering Manual—Volume One (Catering Management) Chapter Eight (Operational Catering) contains extensive guidance on the provision of a nutritious and wholesome diet in a range of different operational environments, including the use of Operational Ration Packs (ORP) when operational constraints prevent other types of feeding.

There is no “recommended continuous exposure period” for ORP, which consist of a range of components that are nutritionally balanced to provide all the macro and micro nutrients that troops may need while on deployment. ORP is normally limited to the first 44 days of an operation, and it would be normal practice to move from ORP to ambient/fresh feeding as early as possible in any deployment, operational circumstances permitting. There is no evidence to date that longer use of ORP where the operational tempo precludes fresh/ambient rations has had any detrimental effect on the cognitive or physical performance of troops, although this is one of the issues that is being looked at in the studies described above.

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence how many servicemen returning from service in (a) Iraq and (b) Afghanistan have been diagnosed with each type of nutritional ailment in each year since 2003. (304869)

The total number of individuals who were diagnosed with nutritional ailments while serving in the armed forces and are currently still serving is not held centrally, and could be obtained only by examining the medical records of all personnel. This could be provided only at disproportionate cost.