“In the military, your body and your life aren’t your own:” Unique factors influencing health behavior change in overweight and obese veterans.

  • Jay M
  • Mateo K
  • Horne M
  • et al.
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BACKGROUND: Obesity affects 36 % of the Veteran population. The Veterans Affairs (VA) Healthcare System offers an intensive weight management program called MOVE!, but only approximately 10 % of eligible patients attend even one session. Since veterans see their PCPs 3.6 times per year, developing primary carebased weight management interventions may improve MOVE! attendance. To inform intervention development, we conducted a single-center qualitative study to explore unique VA patient 1) attitudes, barriers, and facilitators to healthy behavior change; 2) uses and understandings of goal-setting; and 3) weight management-related experiences with health care providers, technology, and MOVE!. METHODS: We sent recruitment letters to overweight and obese patients at the New York Harbor VA. Eligibility criteria included Veterans aged 18-75, having a BMI > 30 or > 25 with at least one co-morbidity, and self-reported ability to read and participate in focus groups. We organized patients into focus groups of 6-11 participants, grouped by gender and MOVE! attendance. The interview guide was informed by the Theory of Planned Behavior (TPB). Sessions were audio-recorded, contextually supplemented with field notes, and transcribed by a professional company. Initial codes were determined based on session recollection and field notes. Using an iterative coding approach, two coders separately reviewed segmented transcripts, modified the codebook as new codes emerged, and met to negotiate codes. We utilized NVivo software to assist with coding and subsequent thematic analysis. RESULTS: We screened 161 patients for eligibility, 77 were scheduled to attend, and 54 attended one of six focus groups (two female and four male). Participants were predominantly male (63 %), African-American (46 %) or White/Caucasian (32 %), college-educated or higher (74 %), and reported having attended MOVE! (61 %). We found that although we attempted to stratify focus groups by MOVE! attendance, the VA electronic health record did not accurately capture this information, and some study participants were confused or unaware of their attendance. Thematic analyses revealed how military service informed participants' attitudes, social norms, and perceived behavioral control with regards to weight management. Participants described how the structured environment and strict standards of the military motivated them to maintain weight control while enlisted, but that lack of autonomy was a barrier to learning how to manage their health when they left service. The military also influenced their perceived need for more personalized and tailored health counseling. Physical activity was largely considered the predominant method to lose weight, and participants felt the MOVE! program lacked a physical activity-related component. While participants acknowledged the potential usefulness of technology to help identify and achieve weight management goals, they expressed the need to have a knowledgeable person (i.e. health coach, PCP, dietician, etc.) provide guidance and support. CONCLUSIONS: This study revealed how military service may influence veterans' intentions to lose weight and their weight management-related experiences. This will guide the development of a computer-assisted intervention to treat obesity within primary care and improve access and quality of weight management services. The implications from this study may be limited as it was conducted at a single site within a specific and a mostly self-selected patient population.




Jay, M., Mateo, K. F., Horne, M., Squires, A., Kalet, A., & Sherman, S. (2014). “In the military, your body and your life aren’t your own:” Unique factors influencing health behavior change in overweight and obese veterans. Society of General Internal Medicine 37th Annual Meeting, San Diego, CA., Abstract #1920967.

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