Nova Scotia

Halifax military base heads into battle against pop and cake

Cafeterias at Canadian Forces Base Halifax are no longer serving fountain pop and have fewer sugary treats in an effort to promote better nutrition among military members and civilians.

Canadian Armed Forces trying to promote health and fitness among members

Thousands of people work at CFB Halifax and eat in the cafeterias on the base. (Elizabeth McMillan/CBC)

Cafeterias at Canadian Forces Base Halifax are no longer serving fountain pop and have fewer sugary treats in an effort to promote better nutrition among military members and civilian employees.

Effective two weeks ago, the number of desserts has decreased from three or four to two, one of which is a healthier option. 

"It doesn't always have to be cake and cookies, especially for lunchtime. How many people actually have dessert at lunch? So we're looking at more things like yogurt with granola and fruits, versus sort of typical sweet desserts," said Capt. (Navy) David Mazur, the base commander.

About 12,000 people work at CFB Halifax — half of them are civilians. There's nothing preventing them from crossing the street to grab junkfood at a convenience store.

Mazur said people can still get pop on the base at machines in lounges and the bar. But he said the base was under no obligation to provide it in the cafeterias. 

"They are hollow calories, so we wanted to slowly make shifts away, bit by bit, towards healthier eating options on the base," he said.

Capt. (Navy) David Mazur is the base commander at CFB Halifax. (CBC)

The changes — which include looking at portion sizes — are in line with a national strategy that aims to improve the fitness of Canadian Armed Forces members, he said.

In recent years, navy ships started replacing deep fryers and charbroilers with high-powered steam ovens in an effort to steer away from fried foods.

Veterans Affairs even had to pay out a claim to a 47-year-old former naval communicator after the Veterans Review and Appeal Board deemed in 2015 that his time on ships contributed to a 47-kilogram weight gain and ultimately hypertension. 

A 2013/2014 health and lifestyle survey found a quarter of military personnel were obese based on their body mass index. Of the personnel surveyed, 49 per cent were considered overweight.

That same survey found regular force members were more likely to eat off base than in a cafeteria, and it suggested "empowering personnel with the right tools to make healthy food choices."

Fountain pop is no longer available in the messes at CFB Halifax. (Elizabeth McMillan/CBC)
 

Mazur, who was aware of the survey, said the Forces have a "moral obligation" to encourage members to maintain their health.

"Being fit and being able to deploy are one in the same. And physical fitness ties in with mental fitness, emotional fitness and ready for deployment," he said.

The base commander said he's been trying to make a personal effort to encourage people to be active. He attends a weekly yoga class at Stadacona with other people who work or live on the base.

"If I don't make an effort and get out and stay fit then how can I expect my subordinates to do so?  And for me there's a lot of pressure in my job. So taking an hour for myself during the day … I feel so much better after I spend an hour out of the desk."

Instead of three to four dessert options in the cafeterias at CFB Halifax, there are now only two, and usually one is healthy, like yogurt or fruit. (CBC)

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About the Author

Elizabeth McMillan is a journalist with CBC's Atlantic investigative unit. Over the past 11 years, she has reported from the edge of the Arctic Ocean to the Atlantic Coast and loves sharing people's stories. Please send tips and feedback to elizabeth.mcmillan@cbc.ca

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