NORFOLK, VA -- The Navy and Marine Corps Public Health Center kicked off its eighth annual Crews Into Shape Challenge today. The challenge, which runs through March 28, is aimed at sparking and guiding workplace-focused, team-oriented physical activity and improved nutrition for the entire Department of Defense (DOD) family.

“This program helps people by raising self-awareness of our daily habits, provides a fun framework for establishing new, healthier habits and increases knowledge about simple ways to improve our diet and physical activity,” says Bob MacDonald, Crews Into Shape project manager and public health educator for the Navy and Marine Corps Public Health Center.

The program is aimed at positively affecting participants’ health-related behavior. Points are awarded to participants who reach daily goals of eating five servings of fruits and vegetables; drinking eight, eight-ounce glasses of water; and getting 30 minutes of exercise. Participants are also awarded extra points for registering themselves at www.mypyramid.gov.

“T-shirts will be given to the top three Navy and Marine Corps crews,” MacDonald says. “We will also award medals to any of our sister services who manage to register 100 people. My ultimate goal for this year is to help at least 5,000 people across the services get thinking about and ‘crewsing’ toward healthier daily habits.”

Last year’s challenge brought together 1,950 sailors, Marines, airmen, soldiers, family members, DOD civilians and DOD-dependant school teachers.

“We want to educate not only service members but their families as well,” MacDonald says. “It usually isn’t the service member buying the groceries or cooking the meals, so getting the word out to spouses and families is very important.”

Sign-up forms are all online. Each crew’s leaders receive frequent “Crews Notes” during the campaign to encourage the participants.

“A key concept of this intervention is the crew -- people committed to help and encourage each other in the struggle to establish healthier habits,” MacDonald says. “An astounding number of service members tell us that an additional and important benefit of the Crews Into Shape Challenge is stronger work groups. It seems closer relationships between co-workers are established while ‘crewsing’ together.”

A registered dietician working at Naval Medical Center Portsmouth created the program to market the five-a-day campaign, an effort to increase daily fruit and vegetable intake. The program is intended to stimulate its participants to live healthier, more nutritious lives, MacDonald says.