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Better Hours, Child Care, Top Fitness Center Wants

By Staff Sgt. Alicia K. Borlik, USA
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 11, 1999 – Service members and spouses want better operating hours and child care at their fitness centers, and more organized physical activities, according to a recent defense survey.

Gail H. McGinn, deputy assistant secretary of defense for personnel support, families and education, said DoD polled 8,500 military members and 3,500 spouses to learn their exercise patterns, the physical activities they enjoyed most, the fitness facilities they used most and their satisfaction with those facilities.

Respondents used fitness centers most, followed by swimming pools and gymnasiums. More convenient hours topped 33 percent of military members' fitness center want lists, while 35 percent of the spouses cited the need for child care services. Larger facilities, more equipment, more workout space and shorter waiting times were other frequent responses.

"We're going to make the services aware of the child care issues so they can come up with creative solutions." McGinn said.

Operation Be Fit, DoD's fitness initiative, has sought for years to improve and expand opportunities in fitness, sports and recreation involving physical activity. "What we didn't have was a baseline to tell us the degree to which people are working out," McGinn said. "The survey gives us that." She expects survey findings to help form new recommendations for the fitness initiative.

One finding sounded worse than it is, she said. The survey said half the military respondents were overweight by new government guidelines that involve calculating a "body-mass index" based on weight and height. Anyone with an index over 25 is supposedly overweight.

McGinn emphasized 20 percent of respondents reported indexes between 25 and 26. Slight variations could as easily have shaved the numbers below 25, she said. "I would not say that over 50 percent of the force is overweight based on this particular finding," she said.

Then, too, measurements are based on people's self-reports and, so, right off aren't necessarily accurate, she noted. Index calculations don't consider muscle mass. "We always hear muscle weighs more than fat, so the more muscular you are the more you weigh," she said.

To get a clearer view of the situation, McGinn said, DoD is reviewing its weight policy and any revisions it makes will be based on body mass index as well as research on body mass overall.

Developments in the fitness arena include the building of 12 new fitness centers approved in the 1999 Defense Authorization Act, McGinn said. She's also studying the issues of more training and certification for fitness center staff.

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