DTA’s Performance and Health Research team are following 27 Royal New Zealand Navy (RNZN) recruits on their 15-week basic common training (BCT) course to evaluate the course’s impacts on their wellbeing and performance.
The BCT course is the first course all new sailors do when they join the Navy. The aim of the course is to confirm that new recruits are suitable for their role in the Navy and to prepare them for specialist training.
The Performance and Health Research team help Defence personnel prepare for the demands of military tasks. Examples of their work include examining the gap between the physical demands of Defence roles and the limitations of an individual, and research into injury prevention and rehabilitation.
Adam Dooley, a scientist working in Performance and Health Research, explains “One of the most important aspects of our work is to identify ways in which we can help the men and women who serve in the NZDF conduct their jobs better, safer and more effectively.”
A comprehensive evaluation of the BCT course in 2015 led to several changes in the way BCT is organised and run. By following recruits on this year’s course, the team is taking advantage of new technology and techniques to gather more data in the following areas.
Physical activity and sleep assessment
Each recruit in the study cohort is wearing a GENEActiv actigraphy monitor to provide 24/7 activity data and sleep quality metrics (duration and efficiency). Data of this scale and uninterrupted duration is something the DTA has not had the capability to assess before.
Body composition assessment
At the beginning, middle and end of the course each recruit’s body composition is assessed using the SOZO device, a unit which quantifies fat mass, fat-free mass and total body water through bioimpedance electrical spectroscopy. This is another new technique for DTA and has drastically reduced the time required to obtain body composition data compared with previous methods such as skinfold measurements.
At three stages of the course (the beginning, in shakedown week and at the end) the nutritional intake of each recruit is assessed by taking calibrated photographs of their plates of food both before and after dining. DTA staff will process these photographs using specialised software to yield estimations of nutritional value and calorie intake.
The data obtained from these research areas will be used to inform future BCT course development and ultimately help to reduce the risk of injury and maximise recruit wellbeing and performance.
Adam says, “It is extremely rewarding to work with a recruit cohort at the very beginning of their military journey, contributing to them (and those that will follow them), getting the best possible start to their RNZN career. It’s a big job, but an important one.”
For a scientist, there is nothing more satisfying than knowing that the work you do is having a positive impact for those who serve.