Army gym goers may soon see shorter lines to use neck exercise machines, as the service announced Monday that it will phase out the current system for measuring body fat by mid-2024.
Don’t throw away your measuring tapes just yet — the Army is merely changing how it tapes soldiers to calculate their body fat.
The new formulas call for only body weight and an abdominal measurement, according to publicly-available implementation documents. The previous test calculated body fat by measuring multiple sites. Both men and women were taped around the abdomen and neck, though the formula for female soldiers required a hip measurement.
However, the legacy tape test was inaccurate, according to research data provided to Army Times. More than a third of men and a quarter of women inaccurately passed or failed body fat standards, the service’s ballyhooed body composition study found after measuring subjects’ “true” body fat using a body scanning device.
Women disproportionately faced false failures under the old test — which critics attributed to the hip measurement equally punishing those with excess fat and those with strong hamstrings and glutes — at 5%, whereas only 1% of men incorrectly failed and 35% falsely passed.
The new method is both more accurate and less forgiving, according to service data and preliminary study findings provided to Army Times.
Only one in four soldiers will incorrectly pass or incorrectly fail body composition under the waist-only test, the data said, with a major reduction in the rate of incorrect passing results.
Researchers also believe that the one-site tape test, when combined with a March policy change exempting high-scorers on the Army Combat Fitness Test from body fat measurement, will inaccurately fail virtually no women and about 0.25% of men.
Soldiers who fail height and weight screening, fail to achieve a fitness exemption, and fail the new waist-only measurement can temporarily request the old test during a one-year implementation period, according to implementation documents. Those who fail again may request a final confirmation test via body scanning or bioelectrical impedance.
After a year, the old tape test will be gone for good, though high-tech confirmation tests will continue when Army-approved fat measurement devices are “reasonably available.”
The service previously announced it would not change its height/weight screening tables, which officials argued are intended to exempt those whose body fat is almost certainly within DoD standard.
Davis Winkie is a senior reporter covering the Army. He focuses on investigations, personnel concerns and military justice. Davis, also a Guard veteran, was a finalist in the 2023 Livingston Awards for his work with The Texas Tribune investigating the National Guard’s border missions. He studied history at Vanderbilt and UNC-Chapel Hill.
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