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Military women use more supplements than men, says new meta-analysis

By Stephen DANIELLS , 08-Jul-2014
Last updated on 08-Jul-2014 at 16:41 GMT

Dietary supplement use in the US Military. Prepared using data from Knapik et al.
Dietary supplement use in the US Military. Prepared using data from Knapik et al.

Dietary supplement use is prevalent by members of the US Military, with women and elite men the highest users of supplements, says a new systematic review and meta-analysis.

According to findings published in BMC Complementary & Alternative Medicine , the use of dietary supplements by men and women in the military is about 59% and 71%, respectively. These figures match those observed in national surveys of dietary supplement use in the general population, with data from the Council for Responsible Nutrition finding that  64% of men and 72% of women take dietary supplements.

While the authors note that a direct comparison with ‘civilian’ data is difficult because of methodological differences between the surveys, they do note that some general observations are possible.

As with other surveys, multivitamins and minerals were the most popular supplement used, with an average use of about 41.5% for men and 53% for women, wrote the authors, led by Joseph Knapik from the US Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine.

The data also indicated that the use of herbal supplements by military personnel is small, with the overall data indicated levels lower that 5%.

Breakdown

Data from 14 studies were included in the new meta-analysis, which found that use among men and women in the Army was lower than in the other armed forces (see chart above for overall supplement use).

This trend was observed for multivitamin and mineral use, they added, with values always lower among Army personnel (see chart below).

Multivitamin use in the US Military. Prepared using data from Knapik et al., BMC Complemen. Altern. Med.

The use of any individual vitamin or mineral supplement was also lowest in the Army, compared with personnel in the Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps, and use was more prevalent for women than men.

Men in elite military groups such as the Navy SEALs, Army Rangers, and Army Special Forces had very high usage, with 76% reporting using any dietary supplement. “This is similar to results found for elite athletes where athletes participating at higher levels of competition (Olympic, national, or international level) were more likely to use dietary supplements than those competing as recreational athletes,” wrote Knapik and his co-authors. “Elite athletes and elite service members may be similar in that they seek to gain additional physical advantages from the use of dietary supplements.”

However, the data indicated that only 37% of these elite service men reported using a multivitamin and mineral, whereas creatine use was about 20%, a figure that is significantly higher than reported in civilian surveys (which put creatine use around 3%).

Commenting on the reasons for using dietary supplements, the data indicated that ‘general health’ was the top reason, while ‘performance enhancement’ came in second on the list.

“Thus, service members reported using dietary supplements for the same reason as civilians,” they wrote, “but a second very common reason was performance enhancement which is seldom mentioned in civilian investigations. In this sense, service members are like athletes who also report performance enhancement as a high frequency reason for dietary supplement use.

“Like athletes, service members’ occupational tasks require a high level of physical performance; they are unlike most athletes in that their activity may be performed in hostile locations and under adverse and austere environmental conditions.”

Source: BMC Complementary & Alternative Medicine
Volume 14, Number 1, Pages 143. doi: 10.1186/1472-6882-14-143.
“A systematic review and meta-analysis on the prevalence of dietary supplement use by military personnel”
Authors: J.J. Knapik, R.A. Steelman, S.S. Hoedebecke, E.K. Farina, K.G. Austin, H.R. Lieberman

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