By Haley Britzky, CNN
(CNN) — As the US Army moves to a new way to measure soldiers’ body fat, officials acknowledged Wednesday that some soldiers who had previously passed under the old regulations may now fail under the new.
The Army is changing its tape test – a method to measure soldiers’ body fat by taking the circumference of various parts of a soldier’s body with a measuring tape. The tape test, an often-dreaded practice among soldiers, is used when soldiers’ weights do not fall within the mandated body mass index screening table.
Previously, men were taped around their neck and abdomen, while women were taped around their neck, waist, and hips. Now, all soldiers regardless of gender will be taped in one area – around the navel – to calculate their body fat.
Many soldiers had cheered the Army’s efforts to update its Body Composition Program when the study started in 2021.
But Holly McClung, a lead researcher on the Army’s Body Composition Study that resulted in the change, told reporters Wednesday that more soldiers will fail the new test.
Army data provided to CNN showed that 34% of people were passing the previous version of the tape test when they should have failed. The new test is expected to align with the regulations and lead to more failures, the data said.
The change is a potential concern considering that soldiers who fail to meet the weight standards can be separated from the service, after several months of attempting to get within their weight standard.
Asked about concerns over more soldiers potentially failing because of the updated body composition study, Sgt. Maj. Christopher Stevens, the senior enlisted leader of the Army’s personnel office, told reporters on Wednesday that the Army is “putting everything on the table to really look at how we can ensure that we continue to assess and retain quality.”
The tape test practice has long been criticized as outdated and inaccurate, particularly as the Army shifted to a new fitness test that introduced more weightlifting than the old test, sparking concerns that the body assessment wouldn’t account for gaining muscle mass.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that the measurement of waist circumference can help predict who may be at higher risk of developing obesity-related health problems like diabetes and heart disease, but it is not a diagnostic tool to determine body fatness or health.
Indeed, the Army said in March that soldiers “with a high volume of lean muscle mass were still at risk of failing the body fat assessment.” So the Army made an exemption for soldiers who scored a 540 out of 600 total points on the Army Combat Fitness Test, saying that those soldiers would not need to be taped. The exemption requires a minimum of 80 out of 100 points earned in each of the six fitness tests.
“As soldiers leverage all domains of Holistic Health and Fitness and strive to reach their maximum potential, our policies should encourage their progress, not constrain It,” Sgt. Maj. of the Army Michael Grinston said at the time.
McClung said Wednesday that efforts by the Army to link data of body composition to soldiers’ performance is “kind of groundbreaking.”
“And what we hope is that over years to come, maybe the bar will get heightened and that it won’t be a 540 it’ll be a 550, it’ll be a continuous moving benchmark because the soldiers will become more fit,” she said.
For the next year, soldiers will have the option of using the previous measuring methods if they fail the tape test under the new regulations. If a soldier fails both, they have the option of requesting another assessment using specific machines that use X-ray or other methods to measure body fat.
Soldiers who still weigh outside the required standard for their gender and height are enrolled in the Army Body Composition Program, which is meant to help them lose weight and get back within standards. Army regulations say they will be provided “exercise guidance” by a fitness trainer in the unit and meet with a registered dietitian.
Soldiers who fail to get within standards after six months can be separated from the service.
McClung said Wednesday that those who had been inaccurately passing would not be “necessarily separated from the Army.”
“We want to help them,” she said, “we want to put them on a health promotion track, work with some dietitians and some trainers, and bring them up to standards.”
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