The purpose of this report, prepared under a grant from the Defense Women's Health Research Program, is to examine whether the present standards for body composition, fitness and appearance support readiness by ensuring optimal health and performance of active-duty women.

In 1992, the Committee for Military Nutrition Research (CMNR) of the Institute of Medicine (IOM) released a report concluding that the standards of body composition required for women to achieve an appearance goal seemed to conflict with those necessary to perform many types of military tasks (IOM, 1992). The committee recommended that body composition standards be based primarily on considerations of task performance and health and that they be validated with regard to the ethnic diversity of the military. In addition, the committee recommended that task-specific performance tests be developed; that appearance standards, if deemed necessary, be made objective; and that research be conducted on the relationships among body composition, health, and physical performance of military personnel, as well as on the long-term outcome of individuals referred to military weight management programs for failure to adhere to standards.

Committee Charge

With the current report, a subcommittee of the CMNR, the Committee on Body Composition, Nutrition, and Health of Military Women (BCNH committee), reexamined these issues, focusing specifically on active-duty women. In light of recent efforts to consider creation of Department of Defense (DoD)-wide fitness and body composition standards (Personal communication, LTC K. E. Friedl, U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command, Fort Detrick, Frederick, Md., 1997), calls to ensure that personnel are physically able to perform the tasks to which they are assigned, and evidence suggesting that efforts to adhere to body composition and appearance standards may place active-duty women at special risk for inadequate nutrient intake, the subcommittee undertook to respond to the following questions posed by the Army:

  •  What body composition standards best serve military women's health and fitness with respect to minimum lean body mass, maximum body fat, and site specificity of fat deposition? Are the appearance goals of the military in conflict with military readiness?


smart," one of the two goals of weight control. The regulation goes on to qualify the standard by emphasizing that enlarged waistlines, "potbellies," detract from good military appearance. No objective criteria (rating scales) have been associated with the appearance standard as it is enforced. (This is discussed further in Chapters 2 and 3). Only a small number of studies have examined how the appearance standard as enforced is linked to body composition. Although appearance is slightly associated with body fat, it is associated more significantly with abdominal circumference (AR 600-9, 1986; Hodgdon et al., 1990; Vogel and Friedl, 1992). Although Army, Navy, and Marine Corps personnel must supply recent photos of themselves to their selection (promotion) boards (this practice has been eliminated by the Air Force and de-emphasized by the Navy), appearance judgments can be rendered at any time. When these involve a suspicion of overweight (as opposed to untidy uniforms or other details of appearance), the individual must be weighed and may be required to have a body fat determination, and if necessary, to enter the weight management program (with attendant career consequences).

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