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Association of military life experiences and health indicators among military spouses

APA Citation:

Corry, N. H., Radakrishnan, S., Williams, C. S., Sparks, A. C., Woodall, K. A., Fairbank, J. A., & Stander, V. A. (2019). Association of military life experiences and health indicators among military spouses. BMC Public Health, 19. 1-14. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12889-019-7804-z

Abstract Created by REACH:

The physical health of service members and their spouses can have important impacts on family and military readiness. Although research has extensively examined contributors to the physical health of service members, less is known about military spouses’ physical health and the extent to which the military context may impact their physical health. Moreover, the degree to which service members and military spouses are similar in their physical health remains unclear. Therefore, this study used data from 9,872 military couples participating in the Millennium Cohort Family Study to examine their various physical health indicators (i.e., BMI, exercise, strength training, amount of sleep, and substance use), military support, social support, and military stress (i.e., deployment stress, injury stress, family stress, and relocation stress). All physical health data were recorded as either meeting or not meeting the Healthy People initiative goals. The majority of service members and military spouses were able to attain most of their health goals, and military support and social support appear to play an important role in helping military spouses reach their health goals.


Physical health
Substance use

Branch of Service:

Air Force
Marine Corps
Multiple branches

Military Affiliation:

Active Duty

Subject Affiliation:

Active duty service member
Spouse of service member or veteran


Adolescence (13 - 17 yrs)
Adulthood (18 yrs & older)
Young adulthood (18 - 29 yrs)
Thirties (30 - 39 yrs)
Middle age (40 - 64 yrs)


Cross-Sectional Study
Quantitative Study
Secondary Analysis


Corry, Nida H., Radakrishnan, Sharmini, Williams, Christianna S., Sparks, Alicia C., Woodall, Kelly A., Fairbank, John A., Stander, Valerie A.


Background The health and well-being of military spouses directly contribute to a robust military force by enabling the spouse to better support the active duty member’s career. In order to understand the overall health and well-being of military spouses, we assessed health indicators among military spouses using the Healthy People 2020 framework and examined associations of these health indicators with military experiences and psychosocial factors. Methods Using data from the Millennium Cohort Family Study, a U.S. Department of Defense-sponsored survey of 9872 spouses of service members with 2–5 years of military service, we examined attainment of Healthy People 2020 goals for spouses and service members, including healthy weight, exercise, sleep, and alcohol and tobacco use. Multivariable logistic regression models assessed associations of spouse health indicators with stressful military life experiences and social support, adjusting for demographics and military descriptors. The spousal survey was administered nationwide in 2011. Results The majority of military spouses met each health goal assessed. However, less than half met the healthy weight and the strength training goals. Reporting greater perceived family support from the military was associated with better behavioral health outcomes, while having no one to turn to for support was associated with poorer outcomes. Using the Healthy People 2020 objectives as a framework for identifying key health behaviors and benchmarks, this study identified factors, including military-specific experiences, that may contribute to physical health behaviors and outcomes among military spouses. With respect to demographic characteristics, the findings are consistent with other literature that women are more likely to refrain from risky substance use and that greater education is associated with better overall health outcomes. Conclusions Findings suggest that enhanced social and military support and tailored programming for military spouses may improve health outcomes and contribute to the well-being of military couples. Such programming could also bolster force readiness and retention.

Publisher/Sponsoring Organization:


Publication Type:

REACH Publication

Author Affiliation:

Abt Associates, NHC
Abt Associates, SR
Abt Associates, CSW
Abt Associates, ACS
The Henry M. Jackson Foundation for the Advancement of Military Medicine, KAW
Mid-Atlantic (VISN 6) Mental Illness Research, Education and Clinical Center, Durham VA Health Care System, JAF
Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Duke University School of Medicine, JAF
Military Population Health Department, Naval Health Research Center, VAS


military, military spouse, service member, health behaviors, Healthy People 2020

View Research Summary:

REACH Publication Type:

Research Summary


This work was funded to be completed by Abt Associates under Contract #W911QY-16-C-0089, supported by the Naval Health Research Center. The study team at the Naval Health Research Center collected and cleaned the data under the direction of Dr. Valerie Stander, who participated in this study as a co-author.

REACH Newsletter:

  May 2020

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