Body mass index predicts selected physical fitness attributes but is not associated with performance on military relevant tasks in U.S. Army Soldiers.J Sci Med Sport 2017; 20 Suppl 4:S79-S84JS
Army body composition standards are based upon validated criteria; however, certain field-expedient methodologies (e.g., weight-for-height, body mass index [BMI]) may disqualify individuals from service who may otherwise excel on physical performance and military-relevant tasks. The purpose was to assess soldier physical performance and military-specific task/fitness performance stratified by BMI.
Cross-sectional observational study.
Male (n=275) and female (n=46) soldiers performed a wide-array of physical fitness tests and military-specific tasks, including the Army physical fitness test (APFT). Within-sex performance data were analyzed by BMI tertile stratification or by Army Body Composition Program (ABCP) weight-for-height (calculated BMI) screening standards using ANOVA/Tukey post-hoc or independent t-tests, respectively.
BMI stratification (higher vs. lower BMI) was associated with significant improvements in muscular strength and power, but also with decrements in speed/agility in male and female soldiers. Within the military specific tasks, a higher BMI was associated with an increased APFT 2-Mile Run time; however, performance on a 1600-m Loaded March or a Warrior Task and Battle Drill obstacle course was not related to BMI in either sex. Male and Female soldiers who did not meet ABCP screening standards demonstrated a slower 2-Mile Run time; however, not meeting the ABCP BMI standard only affected a minimal number (∼6%) of soldiers' ability to pass the APFT.
Military body composition standards require a careful balance between physical performance, health, and military readiness. Allowances should be considered where tradeoffs exist between body composition classifications and performance on physical tasks with high military relevance.