Attrition: Marines Outlaw Fat


September10, 2008:  The U.S. Marine Corps has given its personnel 60 days to meet weight standards, or face disciplinary action (which could range from delayed promotions to discharge.) These standards not only stipulate weight limits, but also body fat limits as well. Female marines cannot exceed more than 26 percent body fat, no matter what their age, while men can only have 18 percent body fat.

This annoys some of the older female marines. In the army, female soldiers who are 40 or older, can have 36 percent body fat. While male marines may joke about their female counterparts being BAMs (Big Ass Marines), the butts are bigger in the army. The navy approach is similar to that of the marines, but everyone is allowed to be a bit larger. The air force only uses a height/weight chart to determine if someone is eligible to join. After that, a formula is used to calculate body mass index (a permissible amount of body fat for each weight and height combination).

Two years ago, the U.S. Army, responding to complaints that physically fit women were being forced out of the service because of unrealistic weight requirements,  changed the standards. For decades, the U.S. military has, with varying degrees of vigor, insisted that troops keep their weight under control, or be forced to leave the service. But over the years, as lifestyles changed, so did the shape of people. Back in the 1990s, the military began to see troops who had taken up weight lifting, and were in, well, magnificent shape, show up as not complying with weight standards and threatened with discharge. A similar thing happened with women in the army, thus the change in weight/height/body fat tables. These tables were last modified in 1987. Naturally, the new tables allow for heavier women to stay in uniform. For example, a new recruit, who is twenty years old and 5 foot seven inches tall, can now weigh up to 159 pounds (rather than 145), as long as their body fat is no more than 30 percent. Similar increases were made for women of all age groups. Women are larger now, but as long as most of the new heft is muscle, there's no problem. The other services adopted a similar body fat standard, to deal with bulked up troops, where most of the weight was muscle.

Naturally, not all the services have the same standards. The marines, which have a similar job to the army, enforce stricter standards. In the civilian world, more and more people are overweight. But in the armed forces, you either stay trim, or find another career.


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