By Meaghan MacDougall
The United States Marine Corps is the first of the five military branches to change the way they do their body composition test. The new test is meant to give service members more accurate results in terms of their body fat composition.

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Components of the New Body Composition Test

The traditional body composition test that every branch of the United States military has used for years is the tape test. The tape test consists of using a tape measure to determine the size of a service member’s neck and waist, which is then compared to their height measurement. The Marine Corps Training and Education Command has been collaborating with the Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine for a year doing research to ensure that the body composition tests and standards are optimizing health, fitness, and performance. Research has shown that the tape test has consistently given inaccurate results, causing around 8% of men and women to be misclassified as overweight. Since reviewing the scientific data from one of the most technologically advanced studies since the 1980s, the Marine Corps has decided to change the way they do their body composition test. The Marine Corps will now start using X-ray scanners along with other equipment to determine the body composition of their service members. The new scanners and equipment are meant to give more accurate results for body composition testing.

Marine Corps Body Composition and Military Appearance Program

The body composition program is designed to help service members lose weight. Marines are weighed, and if their weight is over a certain number, they are then measured for their body fat. Previously, Marines who exceeded the body fat allowance were enrolled in the Body Composition Program. Those who were overweight but did not exceed the body fat allowance were considered to be within the required standards. The United States Marine Corps stated in a message sent out on August 22, 2022, that starting on January 1, 2023, commanders will no longer be assigning Marines to the Body Composition Program.

Military BMI Requirements

BMI, also known as body mass index, is the standard measurement to determine the height and weight relationship for an individual. BMI is also what the United States Military uses to determine the standard BMI for military personnel. Not all branches of the military use BMI as the standard height and weight measurement for their physical and health requirements. But, to determine your BMI in the military, you can use the military BMI calculator. Although BMI is known as the standard height and weight measurement for everyone, there are reasons why BMI is bad for determining the health of an individual. The reason BMI isn’t always the best indicator of overall health is that BMI only takes into account the height and weight of a person to determine the amount of body fat an individual has. BMI doesn’t add in the many other factors that could be the reason a person weighs the amount they do. Examples of these factors include muscle mass, bone density, overall body composition, as well as racial and sex differences. Considering this, the way the military does their body composition test and determines the standards for their men and women creates body image issues, especially for female troops.

The Problems of Negative Body Image Standards for Female Troops

military bmi The current body composition standards for the military are outdated and encourage their troops to be thin rather than fit. The DoD body composition standard is dated as having been created 20 years ago before the repeal of the Direct Ground Combat Definition and the Assignment Rule that opened all jobs to women. But, the standard body composition requirements were actually created much earlier. These do not include the scientific knowledge we have today about the female body. When using the tape testing method, females are measured in three different places, their neck, abdomen, and “hip,” or buttocks. The problem with this is that, years ago when the standard was created, the buttocks were thought of as fat instead of being the largest muscles in the human body, making the tape test extremely inaccurate for women. In 2015, research conducted by the University of Pittsburgh revealed that the DoD equation for estimating

body fat was overestimated by

28% for men and 72% for women

. The inaccuracy of the tape test on female troops has also led to eating disorders, which come with long-lasting health consequences. Finally, the Marine Corps recognized the physical and health differences between men and women and are now increasing the body fat standards for women by 1%, along with changing how to test body composition. Lt. Gen. Kevin Liam said in a statement to Military.com, “We recognize that male and female Marine’s body composition standards did not similarly compare to performance-related body fat. We have updated the maximum percentage allowed for females to reflect what science told us was an equally balanced and standardized body composition across the force.” The new standardized body composition test, which will begin at the start of 2023, is a step in the right direction to creating equitable physical standards for every member of the service.

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