U.S. Military

Innovation Strategy: Comprehensive System Design to Encourage Healthy Behavior

  • Capabilities Used
  • strategy
  • experience design
  • user experience
  • design

The U.S. Military—the world’s most elite fighting force—has a health problem. Just like the rest of America, obesity and tobacco put a huge strain on the system. Over a quarter of new recruits are unqualified due to weight. The military spends over $3.2 billion annually on obesity and tobacco-related medical costs for active-duty personnel. And failure to meet weight standards is a leading cause of involuntary separation from the military.

We focused on three avenues of research to produce the keys to behavior change.

The healthy base of the future needs to encourage a large population of service members to eat healthier and live more actively.



To address this problem, the Pentagon set up the Healthy Base Initiative (HBI), a project operating on 14 pilot installations with the goal of encouraging healthy behavior and to stem the trend towards obesity and tobacco use. As part of this effort, Altitude was asked to think well beyond demonstrations and pilots: to envision what the healthy base of the future would look like and to devise a long-term innovation strategy to get there.

Discovering the Keys to Behavior Change

From the outset, our work focused on behavior change. The healthy base of the future needs to encourage a large population of service members (there were nearly 1.4M active duty service members at the end of 2013) to eat healthier and live more actively. They need to voluntarily engage in frequent behaviors that they were either not inclined, or found difficult, to do today.

We focused on three avenues of research to produce the keys to behavior change. First, we dove into the science behind behavior change and habit formation in order to ground our solutions in an understanding of biology and psychology. Second, we explored the world’s best corporate wellness programs to learn how they have been successful in encouraging healthy behaviors. We researched leading programs like Cleveland Clinic, Safeway, and LL Bean, conducting interviews from the C-suite down to line employees to understand how different policies did and did not translate into real results. And finally, we got to know our customers: soldiers, marines, airmen, and sailors on installations around the world. We conducted in-depth interviews and observations to understand service members’ daily and career journeys so that any solution would resonate with the people that would have to be part of it.

Healthy Base of the Future: Strategy, Vision, and Roadmap

The first output of our work was an innovative strategy and set of design principles that could be used to design a behavior change system. The key principles of such a system are that it be Simple and Meaningful for service members, while also be Scalable and Sustainable for the organization. We broke these ideas down into detailed criteria that could drive design or be used as filters to select off-the-shelf offerings. Next, we created a vision of the healthy base of the future that would inspire change and serve as a guiding light for a long-term effort. The vision was expressed through three 5-minute videos telling the stories of service members at different levels of readiness for behavior change and how a healthy base supports their efforts to change with programs, community, and technology. Finally, we provided a roadmap for achieving this vision. A multi-year, three-phase plan covering five levers (such as technology and messaging) that would activate and involve the military population from enlisted service members all the way up to top brass.
M Force Concept Designs

Organizations that have successfully implemented healthy behavior change have found that the effort can take a decade or more. And the U.S. military is an organization of far greater complexity than most of these. Through its Healthy Base Initiative it is taking the first step on a critical journey that has broad implications for our country as a whole.Blue Altitude Logo