As Pandemic Wanes, Coast Guard to Resume Body Composition Screenings

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Recruits  do sit-ups in the gym at U.S. Coast Guard Training Center
Recruits do sit-ups in the gym at U.S. Coast Guard Training Center Cape May, N.J., as part of their modified training schedule, Jan. 7, 2021. (U.S. Coast Guard/Seaman Josalyn Brown)

The Coast Guard plans to resume its body composition screenings beginning Oct. 1 -- a lead time that should give members a chance to lose the "COVID 19" pounds they may have put on during the pandemic.

In a service-wide message released Tuesday, Mischell Navarro, acting assistant commandant for human resources, said that with the "diminishing impact of COVID-19" and the availability of vaccines, the time is right to resume the service's program that assesses service members’ compliance with height and weight standards.

While all Coast Guard personnel must pass a physical fitness test during boot camp or officers' training, the service does not have an annual personal fitness test requirement for everyone.

Only Coast Guard men and women with physically demanding missions, such as boat crews, rescue swimmers and law enforcement personnel, must pass fitness tests.

Instead, to ensure that its members meet the body standards set to ensure that they can accomplish their jobs and safeguard their health, the service has a set of measurements that Coasties must meet to remain in the service.

Beginning in October, Coast Guard men and women will again undergo body composition screenings as they have in the past, but they will have the option to select abdominal circumference as a measurement rather than the dreaded “tape test” that measures different parts of the body and is particularly challenging for some women and extremely muscular service members who often fail because their measurements don't meet the standards set for their height.

Abdominal circumference measures abdominal fat and is considered a fair assessment of a service member's overall health risk, while tape tests often result in failure of standards for those with thick necks, broad hips or higher body fat ratios.

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"[Abdominal circumference] is highly correlated with internal fat and indicative of true disease risk independent of body mass," the message states. "Increased health risks associated with being overfat are not only related to total body fat, but also more closely to fat distribution. Upper body fat, specifically abdominal fat, presents the greatest health risk as it is highly linked to cardiovascular diseases and metabolic disorders such as diabetes."

Under the new guide, a member who exceeds their maximum allowable weight can opt to undergo the traditional measurements of waist and neck for men, or waist, hips and neck for women. Or they can choose the abdominal circumference measurement.

The maximum allowable abdominal circumference is 39 inches for men and 35.5 inches for women, according to the regulation.

Those who exceed their chosen measurement can request the alternate measurement. Those who exceed their maximum weight limit and also fail measurement testing may opt to take the boat crew physical fitness test. If they pass, they will be considered to be in compliance with Coast Guard standards.

The boat crew test consists of push-ups, sit-ups and a 1.5-mile run or 12-minute swim.

In 2019, Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Karl Schultz said the service would review its weight standards with an eye toward recruiting and retaining a diverse workforce.

Women are three times more likely to fail the standard tape assessment than men. The twice-yearly measurements placed undue stress on some who could not pass the tape test but were physically fit, according to Schultz.

The revised program, with the optional abdominal circumference measurement and physical fitness test option, is a result of that review.

It is the "result of proactively listening to our service members, addressing potential inequities, and seeking solutions to ensure the health and wellness of our workforce," Schultz told Military.com in 2019.

-- Patricia Kime can be reached at Patricia.Kime@Monster.com. Follow her on Twitter at @patriciakime.

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