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On this Memorial Day 2018, LSU's Pennington Biomedical Research Center Marks Three Decades of Military Research

Released: Friday, May 25, 2018

On this Memorial Day 2018, LSU's Pennington Biomedical Research Center Marks Three Decades of Military Research

BATON ROUGE, LOUISIANA - With 130 U.S. Defense Department-funded studies over the past 30 years, LSU’s Pennington Biomedical Research Center is the primary provider of nutritional research for America’s military.

The latest of the Defense Department awards is the Collaborative Research to Optimize Warfighter Nutrition III project, or CROWN III. The $6.7 million study will test the ways to best use nutrition to keep warfighters physically and mentally healthy in the field.

Warfighters often experience environmental and operational stress in and out of battle. CROWN III is aimed at ensuring a healthy, fit military ready for deployment and resilient to those stressors.

“This work is of utmost importance to our country since it has the potential to provide the scientific data necessary to develop new and improved military health policies that promote healthy weight, military readiness and novel tools soldiers need to stay in top condition,” Dr. Donna Ryan, Pennington Biomedical’s executive director at the time, said in announcing the award in September.

Pennington Biomedical’s first research project began in 1989 and involved a request from the U.S. Army to look at the effects of diet on soldiers’ performance. In the 30 years since, the U.S. military has provided Pennington Biomedical with $80 million in grant funding for studies on warfighter health. See more about the Center's 30 years of scientific accomplishments here.

The joint efforts of Pennington Biomedical and military researchers have led to significant improvements of operational rations, better understanding of warfighter energy and nutritional requirements, and modifications in garrison feeding, said Dr. Jennifer Rood, Ph.D., Pennington Biomedical associate executive director for cores and resources and the principal investigator of the CROWN III project.

Among other things, Pennington Biomedical’s work provided the basis for operational recommendations aimed at improving warfighter resiliency to and recovery from burning more calories than they can consume, Rood said. The research center also provided new information that can be used to optimize the nutrient content of rations to better protect soldiers from muscle wasting during missions at high altitude and to sustain performance during physically strenuous assignments.

Other highlights of Pennington Biomedical’s work with the U.S. military include:

  • Helping develop the First Strike Ration, an alternative ration used during periods of highly intense combat. Each First Strike contains an average of 2,900 calories, or 24 hours’ worth of nutrition for warfighters on the move.
  • Developing the Healthy Eating Activity Lifestyle Training Headquarters (H.E.A.L.T.H.) program. The program helps soldiers and their families stay fit and ready in the face of deployment stressors. The Louisiana National Guard has helped hone and test the program. All soldiers in the Army currently have access to H.E.A.L.T.H., and more than 15,000 active-duty, reservists, and National Guard soldiers and their families have used the program. The Louisiana National Guard also helped Pennington Biomedical develop the H.E.A.L.T.H. Intensive program. Under this project, the people closest to the soldiers – their spouses, significant others, live-in relatives and even older children -- encourage them to make healthier choices like getting enough sleep, eating nutritious meals and managing stress.
  • Studying arginine, an essential amino acid thought to help improve blood flow and immune function, to examine whether it can benefit warfighter performance.

Dr. Tiffany Stewart, Ph.D., director of Pennington Biomedical’s Behavior Technology Laboratory and principal investigator for the Army H.E.A.L.T.H. program, said the program includes developing and providing cutting-edge technology – a web/smartphone app – to aid soldiers and their families with nutrition, fitness, sleep and resilience.

The H.E.A.L.T.H. program also serves a key purpose in aiding soldiers in meeting Army standards for performance, Stewart said.

In addition, Pennington Biomedical’s new work aims to tackle eating disorders in the military and to develop and test a “pre-recruitment” program for young people hoping to join the military, Stewart said. At present, 71 percent of young Americans aged 17-24 are too unfit for service.

"At Pennington Biomedical, we are looking at the health of the whole soldier,” Dr. Stewart said. “We want our men and women in uniform to be ready for whatever they may face during their service, and that means being physically and mentally optimized and resilient.”

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The Pennington Biomedical Research Center is at the forefront of medical discovery as it relates to understanding the triggers of obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer and dementia. It is a campus of Louisiana State University and conducts basic, clinical and population research. The research enterprise at Pennington Biomedical includes approximately 80 faculty and more than 25 post-doctoral fellows who comprise a network of 44 laboratories supported by lab technicians, nurses, dietitians, and support personnel, and 13 highly specialized core service facilities. Pennington Biomedical’s more than 500 employees perform research activities in state-of-the-art facilities on the 222-acre campus located in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.