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When Should Military Moms Return to Duty? / April 22, 1998 / News from the USDA Agricultural Research Service

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Measuring body fat and bone density of U.S. Army major Maureen Barthen

When Should Military Moms Return to Duty?

By Jill Lee
April 22, 1998

If a female soldier decides to have a child, how quickly will the mother be ready to return to duty? Currently, women soldiers get 6 months after delivery to meet the periodic weight, body fat and fitness tests.

A study at the Children’s Nutrition Research Center in Houston, Texas, aims to learn exactly what women can expect from their bodies before, during and after pregnancy. The Houston center is a cooperative venture of the Agricultural Research Service and Baylor College of Medicine. The U.S. Department of Defense is funding the study.

The findings should benefit not only military moms but all new mothers concerned about staying fit after pregnancy. Nutritionist Nancy Butte leads the Houston project, tracking calorie needs, body composition and physical ability of 68 military and civilian women. Specifically, the researchers are looking at how pregnancy affects body protein, muscle strength and bone mass.

The military body weight standard is based on a person’s body mass index. But pre- pregnancy BMI is also a determinant of fetal growth. A woman with a BMI of 19.8 or lower should gain more weight than one with an average or high BMI. Researchers want to know if these gains are in fat mass, free fat mass or water. There may be a threshold for maternal fat below which fetal growth is compromised.

The study has already found that some military equations, based on body circumference measurements, may underestimate fat mass.

Details are in a story in the April issue of ARS’ Agricultural Research magazine. The story is also on the World Wide Web at:

http://www.ars.usda.gov/is/AR/archive/apr98/what0498.htm

Scientific contact: Nancy Butte, Children’s Nutrition Research Center, Baylor College of Medicine, 1100 Bates St., Houston, Texas, phone (713) 798-7179, fax (713) 798-7187, nbutte@bcm.tmc.edu.

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