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  • Cutting the flab

    Tighter regs on body fat are coming your way
    By Lance M. Bacon - Staff writer
    Posted : Saturday Nov 19, 2011 9:29:29 EST

    Fat bodies beware — Army officials are taking a strong look at body fat regulations and changes are likely by next summer.

    Sergeant Major of the Army Raymond Chandler is leading the review. His team includes senior command sergeants major, Army health officials and piles of health and historic data. Just about everything is on the table, and changes are likely in three key areas:

    Body fat percentage. The Defense Department sets the left and right lateral limits, then allows each service to establish its own guidelines. The Army’s body fat allowance is “pretty broad,” Chandler said. In fact, it is the most lenient.

    The Army uses four age groups to identify body fat limits. For men, body fat allowance goes as high as 26 percent and women are allowed up to 36 percent. Those percentages are higher than those permitted for all other services.

    Chandler’s team will determine whether screening tables and age categories are still accurate.

    The tape test. The SMA also wants to know whether the tape test is the best way to measure body fat. He is not alone — each of the other services has tried to tackle this question in recent years. The answer has been consistent: There are better ways to determine body fat, but they are neither practical nor financially feasible when testing a large number of people.

    Even if the Army sticks with the tape, Chandler said the location of measurements could change. That would be widely applauded by women who have long said the current model is not fair.

    Males are measured at the abdomen (at the level of the belly button) and neck below the Adam’s apple. Women’s necks are measured at the same spot, but the abdomen is measured at the point of minimal circumference. They also have a hip measurement taken at the point where their buttocks protrude the most.

    Wounded warriors. Chandler said a key aspect of this review is to ensure the Army “is doing right by its wounded warriors.” Current policy does not address these soldiers very well. For instance, should measurements be taken with or without prosthetics? What considerations should be given to burn victims?

    Get fit or get out
    Chandler did not say that tighter weight standards will be used to trim end strength, but it is inevitable.

    The Army has been somewhat lax on body fat regulations in recent years, but it must cut 49,000 soldiers in the coming five years. That means soldiers failing to make weight can expect little slack.

    Consider this: The Army in 2001 booted 1,004 soldiers for failing to meet weight standards. There were 483,000 soldiers at the time. But the service cut only a combined 286 soldiers in 2007 and 2008, when the force was 569,000 strong. The number of overweight soldiers had not decreased. On the contrary, operations in Afghanistan and Iraq had increased, and the Army was keeping every experienced soldier it could.

    As operations diminish, the Army is recommitting itself to the profession of arms that cannot receive full attention in a time of war. This effort calls for soldiers who are fit to fight and project a professional appearance.

    That same focus was in force in the decade between the Gulf War and the current wars. Nearly 20,000 soldiers were discharged from 1992 to 2001 for failure to comply with weight standards outlined in Army Regulation 600-9, according to the 2009 Military Services Fitness Database report, which was published in the journal Military Medicine. In comparison, the Army discharged about a tenth of that number — 2,342 soldiers — for failing the physical fitness test between 1999 and 2007.

    Soldiers who exceed height/weight standards undergo tape measurements to determine body fat percentage. A soldier who fails to meet those standards is unable to extend or re-enlist unless that soldier has a temporary or permanent physical medical condition that precludes weight loss, or is pregnant. The soldier also is flagged for all favorable personnel actions. He is not promotable, cannot be assigned to leadership positions, is not authorized to attend professional military schools. Such marks will be career killers in an Army that looks to retain the best and brightest.

    One needs to look no further than the Qualitative Management Program for proof. The program was put on hiatus during the current wars. But 600 soldiers from the top three enlisted ranks have been forced to retire since it was reinstituted just two years ago. The senior soldiers were shown the door because they had a derogatory mark in their record, which could be anything from a drunken driving conviction to a failure to pay bills.

    Army gets fatter
    With that said, the crackdown on weight standards is not just a matter of how you look in uniform or your ability to pass the fitness test. Chandler said soldier health is a driving concern.

    “The Army has gotten a little bit larger, and I have some concerns about that,” he said.

    More than a third of men in uniform do not meet height and weight standards, according to a 2009 report, “Military Services Fitness Database: Development of a Computerized Physical Fitness and Weight Management Database for the U.S. Army.”

    The nation’s obesity rate adds to the dilemma. While the Army has focused on winning wars for the past 10 years, that rate has increased from 14 to 23 percent among 17- to 24-year-olds, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

    From 1998 to 2008, the number of states in which 40 percent or more of young adults are overweight or obese grew from one to 39. This is the pool from which the Army fills its ranks.

    The Army is using things such as the Physical Readiness Training, an improved fitness test and the Soldier Athlete initiative to reverse this trend. And it is not alone. Each service is now tightening, or has tightened, fitness standards. Marine Commandant Gen. Jim Amos in March ordered “immediate compliance” with regulations, and authorized random weigh-ins.

    Army commanders can order the same if a soldier appears to exceed weight or body fat regulations.

    All soldiers are weighed when they take the fitness test or at least every six months.

    Chandler’s team will meet again in December to hone its recommendations, which will then be forwarded to Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno.

  • #2
    Re: Cutting the flab

    Good! I have little sympathy for those who don't pass body fat. We are fit to fight force that has to move faster and go farther than our enemy. If your fat then you don't belong in the military, period. I'm glad to see they are reviewing the height and weight standards. They have been out dated for a very long time. Same with the tape method for determining body fat.