A soldier receives an old tape test in October 2021 at Fort Bragg, now Fort Liberty, N.C.

A soldier receives an old tape test in October 2021 at Fort Bragg, now Fort Liberty, N.C. (U.S. Army)

The Army will now determine the body fat of soldiers using a simplified tape test at the navel that is proven to have more consistent and accurate measurements, according to a new directive.

The new guidance was first introduced as a recommendation in March with the results of a body composition study that found the Army could improve the accuracy of its body fat and fitness assessments, which can negatively impact a soldier’s career if they fail to meet service standards.

Army Secretary Christine Wormuth signed a directive Friday that authorized the service phase in the tape test during the next year as it phases out the previous method.

The study found the previous tape-test method, which differed for men and women and involved several measurements, was only right about 65% of the time.

“The Army is continuously refining programs through research and soldier feedback to improve readiness and lethality,” Sgt. Maj. of the Army Michael Grinston said in a statement issued Monday.

In addition to the simplified tape test, the new policy also allows soldiers who fail to meet standards to undergo a biometric screening on approved devices to calculate body fat.

These two changes are in addition to the March update that authorized soldiers who score high enough on the Army Combat Fitness Test to be exempt from height-weight standards. A score of 540 or higher, with a minimum of 80 points in each of the six events, exempts soldiers from a body fat test if they fail the weight requirements.

These changes combined should reduce the error rate to almost zero, service officials said in March.

“The Army wants to ensure it accounts for the whole soldier concept,” said Maj. Serena Staples, health promotion policy officer for the Army Resilience Directorate. “The new policy is intended to give soldiers a more accurate assessment of their health and fitness and to increase their knowledge of available health resources.”

The new directive impacts troops on active duty and in the Reserve and National Guard, as well as cadets in ROTC and at the U.S. Military Academy.

While the height and weight screening table will remain as the first assessment, the new tape test uses a single measurement at the midsection and compares it to the soldier’s weight on a chart. This will be used for men and women, though there is a separate chart for each gender.

The old method involved measurements at a man’s abdomen and neck and a woman’s waist, hips and neck. This method is still valid through the next year, and then will phase out, according to the directive.

When soldiers fail the new tape test, the directive allows for soldiers to use an approved biometric screening machine at a government facility to calculate their body fat. ROTC members will be allowed to use machines at their colleges. This option is only approved if it is “reasonably available,” according to the directive.

The only previously approved method for validating a failed tape test was another tape test.

Soldiers who don’t meet the standards will be enrolled in the Army Body Composition Program. After that, a soldier could be held back from schools or promotions, separated from the service, or barred from reenlistment.

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Rose L. Thayer is based in Austin, Texas, and she has been covering the western region of the continental U.S. for Stars and Stripes since 2018. Before that she was a reporter for Killeen Daily Herald and a freelance journalist for publications including The Alcalde, Texas Highways and the Austin American-Statesman. She is the spouse of an Army veteran and a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin with a degree in journalism. Her awards include a 2021 Society of Professional Journalists Washington Dateline Award and an Honorable Mention from the Military Reporters and Editors Association for her coverage of crime at Fort Hood.

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