FORT EUSTIS, Va. – Early data gathered from the Army’s new health and fitness program has shown more than a one-third reduction in suicides among soldiers in units that have incorporated the program.
Other detrimental behaviors or outcomes such as substance abuse and physical injuries also saw lower reported rates among those brigades with the Holistic Health and Fitness program in place, also called H2F, than units without the program, which saw increases during the COVID-19 pandemic in every negative outcome category.
Also, health-program resourced units have seen some rates drop below pre-pandemic figures for increased improvement, according to Army data presented by Dr. Andrew Thompson, a research physiologist with the initial training center on April 26 at the annual Holistic Health and Fitness Symposium.
The more than one-third decrease in suicides among H2F-enabled brigades was coupled with a more than one-third increase in suicides among brigades in the sample that did not have the program.
Researchers used 2019 figures in all categories as a baseline for both groups of brigades and measured rates over a three-year period, which ran from 2019 to 2022.
Units with H2F also saw levels of those incidents drop below pre-COVID-19 levels while non-H2F units have experienced rates that continue to increase past pre-pandemic levels, according to Army data.
Army Times previously reported that active duty Army suicide numbers have hovered between 108 to 175 annually between 2016 and 2021, when the most complete data was available. Officials reported the lowest figure in 2017 and the highest in 2021 for that period.
Positive indicators also increased, including marksmanship and fitness test scores and a propensity among soldiers to seek assistance for health changes.
If similar improvement rates in injuries, behavioral health and other medical conditions were applied across the Army, the readiness and cost savings would be significant.
“It would give (U.S. Army Forces Command) a 90% deployable force,” Thompson told the audience.
If the service could replicate the Army Combat Fitness Test pass rates shown in the H2F brigades across all 110 brigades that are expected to have H2F by 2030 that would translate into an entire division, or 15,000 soldiers, passing the test on the first try, he said.
That also means a $1.4-1.6 billion cost savings on retraining, Thompson said.
Those outcomes could mean an increase in the rollout of health program staffing and equipment over the currently planned 10 brigades per year to 15 brigades annually.
The data still requires review and further study, but appears promising, Army experts said.
“This is preliminary, emerging, cautiously optimistic data that needs peer review,” Col. Jason Faulkenberry, health program director, told Army Times on April 26.
Data comparing soldiers in Holistic Health and Fitness-resourced units compared with non-participating units over a three-year period:
- 37% fewer suicides compared to a 37% increase in suicides in non-H2F units.
- 49% lower incidence of behavioral health referrals; 492 fewer profiles.
- 21% more likely to believe that the Army cares about promoting health and wellness.
- Twice as likely to recommend Army service.
- 15% more likely to plan to serve until retirement.
- 107% reduction in substance abuse profile reports; 470 fewer profiles.
- 40% reduction in medical boards year-over-year.
- 52% fewer musculoskeletal injuries; 1,178 fewer external referrals for such injuries.
- 50% more likely to seek Army physical therapy treatment.
- 63% more likely to seek Army occupational therapy treatment.
- 88% more likely to seek Army dietician treatment.
- 10% lower incidence of body composition failures; 418 fewer profiles.
- 5,214 more soldiers among 28 brigades passing the Army Combat Fitness Test.
- 4,479 more soldiers qualified as rifle experts across the 28 resourced brigades.
Source: Center for Initial Military Training; Army Training and Doctrine Command
Thompson and staff at the Center for Initial Military Training at the Army’s Training and Doctrine Command compared performance and reports of negative outcomes such as suicide, musculoskeletal injuries and substance abuse among the 28 brigades with the health program staffing and equipment with 28 similar brigades without the program, Faulkenberry said.
The fitness program combines five health domains — physical, sleep, nutrition, spiritual and mental — for an all-encompassing approach to soldier health and performance. Each domain is covered by an expert in the field from strength and conditioning coaches to behavioral health professionals, registered dieticians and chaplains.
The program emerged with a pilot study in 2018 following years of Army research on ways to reduce injuries among soldiers.
While the current rollout features. A dozen more brigades are scheduled for staffing this year with 10 each year until the 110-brigade goal concludes in 2030.
However, Maj. Gen. John Kline, Center for Initial Military Training commanding general, said on April 26 that he had met recently with the Vice Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Randy George recently and he soon will recommend a 15-brigade per year rollout to speed up delivery of the program to units in need.
A full, reviewed report on the past three years of the health program is planned for release by October, Thompson said.
Todd South has written about crime, courts, government and the military for multiple publications since 2004 and was named a 2014 Pulitzer finalist for a co-written project on witness intimidation. Todd is a Marine veteran of the Iraq War.