One in five military-age Americans is too fat to join the armed services. But don't think that means if you're a little overweight you can't get in. You can. There are quotas to fill. Still, the military has had to turn away 48,000 overweight applicants since 2005. The percentage of overweight 18-year-olds who applied (all branches) rose from 27 to 32% between 1996 and 2005.
The military uses % body fat, instead of BMI, to decide if a person is overweight. Body fat is calculated from tape measurements of height, abdomen and neck for men. For women the variables incorporated are height, weight, hips, forearm, neck and wrists. Men can be up to 30% body fat, and women up to 36% body fat, and STILL GET IN: if they pass the ARMS test and reduce their body fat to "acceptable" levels within a year. I have not found the specifics as to what is acceptable for the different military branches--yet.
I take it back, here's the Air Force Height and Weight Standards. Here's the regs for the Navy, Marines and Army. The army has different standards for those who've enlisted before, and those who haven't. If you've been in before, they hold you to a tighter standard. I like that.
It sounds like some overweight recruits have a hard time loosing the weight while they're in. Nobody said it directly but these two factoid are telling: A significant number of active soldiers exceed their weight-height standards or are borderline. And new female recruits to the army GAIN an average of 16.9 pounds IN THE FIRST YEAR. It used to be that you were discharged if you got too fat in the military. Now the Army has TRIMM and HEALTH and other programs designed to help their officers keep or regain their girlish figures.
When a new applicant is outside the official body fat and height/weight parameters, the next option is the ARMS test (Assessment of Recruit Motivation and Strength). It involves the same simple physical challenges used to test firefighters: a step test and pushups. The step test is 5 minutes of stepping on and off a box. The pushups required are 15 for men and only 4 for women! If applicants pass the ARMS test, the Army will take them. The Army has increased the number of sites set up to administer the ARMS test from 6 to over 50 to increase recruitment. I saw reports that some applicants would rather use rubber suits, laxatives, diet pills and possibly even liposuction to get down to a size that will pass the "tape test", so they don't have to take the ARMS test.
and The Week 4/3/09 edition