Information Warfare: Confusing Muscle and Fat

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April 3, 2007: Recent reports that the military is accepting overweight recruits do not tell the whole story. The news reports would have you believe that enlistment standards have declined. This has drawn concern from a number of media outlets, but what has been left out is an discussion about exactly what is meant by "overweight". In this case, the standard used is one that has led to some very… well, interesting might be the best word to describe the results. That said, by not questioning the method that declared the new troops overweight, the media has managed to pass on yet another misleading story that reflects poorly on the military.

First of all, the total of overweight and/or obese recruits was 38 percent. This is up from 30 percent in 1996. This is still a minority of the total recruits. But even then, one needs to look at just why these recruits were deemed overweight or obese. The answer to that question is what ultimately proves this to be a potential non-story that has been easily twisted by the media.

The media reports about the fat recruits cited the use of body-mass index to determine if recruits were overweight or not. This is done by taking one's weight in pounds, dividing it by the square of one's height in inches, and multiplying by 703. If the BMI is under 18, the person is too thin. From 18-25, the person is in the healthy range. From 25-30, a person is considered overweight, and if the BMI is over 30, that person is considered obese. Sounds good in theory, right? Well, military history is replete with examples proving that what sounds good in theory may not work that well in the real world. The BMI is one of those. Why?

All one needs to find the answer is a BMI calculator (many are available on the web, from interest groups like the Center for Consumer Freedom and government agencies like the CDC), and a copy of the roster for one's favorite NFL team. The Body-Mass Index declares many of the best NFL players on the field today to be in the overweight or obese categories. One example is all-pro linebacker Brian Urlacher, who weighs 255 pounds and is six feet, four inches tall. Urlacher's BMI is 31, which makes him obese under this standard. Lance Briggs, a Pro Bowl linebacker who is six feet, one inch tall and weighs 240 pounds, has a slightly higher BMI than Urlacher, and is also obese. See if anyone who got tackled by them believes either linebacker is out of shape.

Many combat troops and recruits are affected in a similar manner. Often there is a lot of muscle on troops, who frequently carry heavy loads (as much as 100 pounds for some) for extended periods of time. The results might be a BMI that declares the troops to be overweight or obese. In essence, the use of a flawed metric is enabling the media to fire off stories painting a misleading picture of the fitness of incoming recruits. - Harold C. Hutchison (haroldc.hutchison@gmail.com)

 


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