An officer candidate executes a squat during a physical training event at Officer Candidates School aboard Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia, July 30, 2019.

An officer candidate executes a squat during a physical training event at Officer Candidates School aboard Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia, July 30, 2019. U.S. Marine Corps / Lance Cpl. Phuchung Nguyen

Fail the Body-Fat Test, Marine? Ask for a High-Tech Recount

The Marine commandant says this and other new body-composition policies will help “maintain a healthy, ready force.”

Marines who fail a tape test for body-fat percentage will soon be allowed to take a different type of exam before being placed in a remediation program after results of a new study led the service’s top officer to make policy changes.

The year-long study was conducted by the U.S Army’s Research Institute of Environmental Medicine and the U.S. Marine Corps’ Training and Education Command. After preliminary results were published in March, Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger made several changes to the service’s body composition policies. The Corps announced the upcoming changes Monday in a press release and administrative message. The study’s final report is due in September, said Maj. Jim Stenger, a Marine Corps spokesman.

Marines who are determined to have more than the allowed amount of body fat will undergo a dual energy x-ray absorptiometry scan or a bioelectrical impedance analysis to double-check their tape test results before having to be placed in the body-composition program or kicked out of the service.

"Our research demonstrated the taping method is still a viable solution to determine if a Marine is within an optimal body composition range,” said Lt. Gen. Kevin Iiams, the commander of Marine Corps Training and Education Command, in the release. “However, we recognize that a more scientifically advanced method of determining body composition is required before a Marine is assigned to a program that could have career implications."

The announcement comes after a RAND study this year looked into the Marine Corps’ body-composition policies and program and found that the standards do not fully consider the current diversity and fitness requirements of personnel, and can lead to the development of unhealthy behaviors like eating disorders.

Another change Berger is making is to give women a one percentage point increase in their total allowable body fat, which varies by age groups.

“This change optimizes the balance between health and performance while better aligning standards and recognizing gender-specific physiological differences,” the Marine Corps administrative message said. “Anticipated positive effects of this policy modification include increased physical readiness and a reduction of injuries.”

Marines who receive a score of 285 or higher on their fitness test will still be allowed a “performance exemption,” according to the service.

The recent study was conducted at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia; Camp Lejeune, North Carolina; and Camp Pendleton, California. Their height and weight were measured and they underwent a tape test, which is a low-tech method to assess whether someone’s body fat is over the allowable percentage set by the service for their age group.

The research found that the tape test “correctly identifies 91.6 percent of male Marines and 92 percent of female Marines as over the allowable body fat,” according to the release.

The Marines were then assessed using three methods to measure tissue density: a 3D body scan; a dual energy x-ray absorptiometry, or DEXA, scan; and a bioelectrical impedance analysis, or BIA. They were also asked to do a “counter movement jump” on a “force plate” to measure jumping up as part of a performance assessment.

The updated policy will be published as a Marine Corps Bulletin before Oct. 1 and go into effect Jan. 1, according to the administrative message. The Marine Corps decided to make the announcement about the changes before the policy change is finalized because, according to the release, it “recognizes needed change cannot wait.”

“Ultimately, this is about warfighting. We need to find the most practical, accurate, and unbiased method of measuring body composition to maintain a healthy, ready force,” Berger said in the release. “In order to make changes, we have to understand the impacts and availability of our proposed alternative methods. This will take some time to get it right, but we owe it to our Marines to move quickly.”

The Corps, which currently owns three DEXA machines, according to Stenger, will need to acquire more and distribute them across Marine units.