US Military supplement use ‘increasing over time’: Study

By Stephen Daniells

- Last updated on GMT

© guvendemir / Getty Images
© guvendemir / Getty Images

Related tags soldiers Military Dietary supplements dietary supplement use Multivitamin Protein muscle building

Overall use of dietary supplements continues to increase over time in all branches of the US military, says a new survey that shows that 74% of service members reported using at least one supplement at least once a week.

Data published in the Journal of Nutrition​ indicated that the most used supplements are Multivitamins/multiminerals (used by 45% of those surveyed), combination products (44%), and then protein or amino acids (42%).

Researchers from the US Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine (Natick, MA), the Naval Health Research Center (San Diego, CA), and the Army Public Health Center (Aberdeen Proving Ground, MD) definited combination products as dietary supplements that contained a mixtures of ingredients containing multiple ingredients and those positioned in at least two categories, including weight loss, pre- or post-workout, and muscle/body-building.

“Comparisons with previous military data suggested DS use has increased over time among service members in all service branches, especially use of proteins/AAs, combination products, herbals, and purported prohormones,” ​they wrote.


US Military personnel, particularly those on active duty, are under intense physical and psychological strain, often under difficult conditions, so it should come as no surprise that military ‘operators’ look to products like dietary supplements for support.

Survey data shows that usage is significantly higher than the general population, and increases even more when the soldiers move from the garrison to deployment.(Austin et al., Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism​, 2016, Vol. 41, No. 1, pp. 88–95)

They consume a lot of body building and weight loss products to help with performance and to ensure they meet fitness targets, and this has raised concerns with a 2016 paper in Drug Testing & Analysis​ reporting that an estimated that 10% of military personnel use “risky’ supplements. (Deuster et al., Drug Testing & Analysis​, 2016, Vol. 8, Iss. 3–4, pp. 431–433)

And military personnel are mostly buying their supplements online, despite there being GNCs close to or on base, and these choices are often being made based on recommendations from friends.

The military has taken an active stance in trying to better educate and inform its personnel with initiatives like Operation Supplement Safety​, which is an online resource that lists, among other things, the Department of Defense’s prohibited dietary supplement "ingredients".

Study details

The new survey data shows that dietary supplement (DS) use continues to grow among US Military personnel, and is significantly higher than usage numbers in the general US population. (Different surveys report different numbers, however, with the CDC reporting dietary supplement use among US adults of 57.6% in 2018​. On the other hand, data from the Council for Responsible Nutrition’s annual consumer survey puts the number at 75%​).

Data from 26,681 US active duty service members was obtained using questionnaires completed between December 2018 and August 2019. The respondents included 88% men and 12% women, and came from all branches of the US military: Army 36%, Air Force 24%, Marine Corps 15%, and Navy 25%.

Results indicated that after Multivitamins/multiminerals, combination products, and protein/amino acids, the next most used supplements were individual vitamins/minerals (31%), herbals (20%), joint health products (9%), and pro-hormones (5%). Users of dietary supplements spent an average of $40 per month on supplement products, with 31% spending over $50 per month.

“Compared with civilian data from the NHANES, service members were much more likely to use DSs and used different types of DSs, especially combination products and proteins/amino acids often used to purportedly enhance physical performance,”​ wrote the researchers. “Comparisons with previous military data suggest DS use has increased over time.”

Source: The Journal of Nutrition
Published online ahead of print, doi: 10.1093/jn/nxab239
“Prevalence of and Factors Associated with Dietary Supplement Use in a Stratified, Random Sample of US Military Personnel: The US Military Dietary Supplement Use Study”
Authors: J.J. Knapik et al.

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