Pilot in Action, Capt. Lisa Klekowski

A Hard Look at Defining Fitness to Serve

Fitness to serve might be a subjective matter for some jobs. But for serving in the military it’s critical to be absolutely objective. And right now, 71 percent of young adults are not fit to serve in the U.S. military. A key reason for that is high rates of obesity. It’s also a key reason that the military is losing people from its ranks. Since 2001, obesity in the military has doubled – rising from 6.5 to 13 percent. Obesity can end a person’s military career.

In the International Journal of Obesity, Russell Nelson and colleagues take a hard look at the standards for fitness to serve in the U.S. Army. And they find room for improving those standards.

A Two-Step Process

Every six months, the army measures a soldier’s weight and height. If the soldier is below a BMI threshold based on age and gender, fine. If not, the soldier goes through a second screen to measure detailed body circumferences. For men, it’s their waist and neck. For women, it’s hips, waist, and neck. This tape method is the basis for estimating a soldier’s body fat percentage. At that point, if the soldier doesn’t meet standards, a process starts that can lead to discharge.

Nelson et al conducted a sophisticated analysis to compare the Army’s BMI thresholds for screening soldiers to the body fat standards that come into play in the second phase. And what they found was a bit of a disconnect. The standards for body fat were effectively tougher than the BMI thresholds used for screening and even recruitment.

Tougher Standards for Women

This disparity was especially tough for women. Nelson found that roughly 85% of female recruits would not meet the body fat standard based on waist circumference. And even for male recruits, 73% would not meet their standard.

Let’s be clear, defining fitness to serve is critically important for the army. So the service has worked hard on developing these standards – and refining them over the years. But this new research from Nelson et al tells us that there’s room for further improvement.

Especially for female soldiers.

Click here for the study and here for further background.

Pilot in Action, Capt. Lisa Klekowski, photograph © U.S. Army / flickr

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September 6, 2018