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Tape Test May Soon be Thing of the Past

Washington Report

Defense officials expect to decide on changes to the infamous “tape test” by next summer, potentially revamping one of the main ways commanders evaluate their troops’ fitness and body composition, according to the Army Times.

The Pentagon has been working with the services for more than a year on potential changes to the force-wide policy that dictates how the military calculates service members' body fat.

A tape test that relies on several key measurements of body size and height-weight proportions has been the primary tool in that effort for more than a generation. 

The test is cheap and simple. But it’s widely criticized as inaccurate while unfairly penalizing people with certain body types. 

Body-composition standards and testing procedure are covered in Department of Defense Instruction 1308.3, “DoD Physical Fitness and Body Fat Programs Procedures."

The current version of 1308.3 requires each service to report annually the number of personnel who fail physical fitness and body-fat tests, the number placed in weight-control programs, and the service’s separation policy for those who fail those tests.

“The department is actively working closely with the services on this issue and we expect to have results we can discuss in late spring or early summer," said Pentagon spokeswoman Lt. Col. Carla Gleason told Army Times. "Body-composition standards are an important issue for the department, but currently all of the discussions are predecisional.”

Other options to evaluate body composition include MRIs, water displacement or CT scans. Each is more accurate, but also costly. They can also be time consuming. 

Potential changes to the tape test are part of a larger effort to meet Defense Secretary James N. Mattis' call for a more lethal, deployable force. 

Earlier this year, the Army introduced its first new fitness test in 40 years. Service leaders say the new six-event test is a better assessment of the strength and stamina required in combat. It is currently undergoing field testing in Active, Guard and Reserve units nationwide. 

More recently, the Army issued its mandatory deployability requirements, which include passing the physical fitness test and the ability to meet the physical demands of a specific deployment. 

The new “body composition rules” will set a minimum baseline across the entire military, while letting the services set their own, more rigorous requirements, officials said.

The toughening standards are coming as the Pentagon combats an increasingly heavier force. According to Defense Health Agency data as of 2015, the number of troops medically diagnosed as overweight or obese jumped from 71,168, or 4.5 percent of the Total Force, in 2011, to 113,958, or 7.8 percent, in 2015.

More recent data is not available.