The Air Force has decreased its body weight standards for men and women as many Americans are too fat to serve and the military struggles to find applicants.
According to new standards posted by the Air Force, men can now have a body weight of 26% fat (up from 20%) and women can have a body weight of 36% fat (up from 28%). The Air Force said that this move was to widen the recruiting pool as fewer Americans have chosen a military career.
“The Air Force is looking to open the aperture on qualifying a broader pool of young Americans for service in the Air Force. These changes bring the Air Force in line with DOD policy,” Leslie Brown, Air Force Recruiting Service spokeswoman, told Fox News. “While recruits will be allowed to join with greater body fat percentages, they will still be expected to meet the same fitness standards as everyone else to stay in the service. That means meeting the waist-to-height ratio requirement the Air Force announced in January and implemented this month.”
Currently, the Air Force is on pace to miss its active-duty recruiting goal by around 10%, according to Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall. The recruiting crisis comes after the Air Force forced hundreds of airmen out of the service over their refusal to get the COVID vaccine.
According to a CDC press release from last year, about a third of those aged 17-24 are “too heavy” to be in the military. Even if young Americans do meet the weight requirements, they may not be suited to the military for other related reasons. “Among the young adults who meet weight requirements, only 3 in 4 report physical activity levels that prepare them for challenges in basic training,” the CDC said.
The CDC also noted that the rates of obesity among active duty service members had increased from 16% in 2015 to 19% in 2020. This presents another challenge as obese soldiers are more likely to get a musculoskeletal injury, at least according to one study.
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“We are recruiting today’s generation, not my generation who joined more than 30 years ago, where a tattoo may have been taboo but is now a societal norm,” Brown added in her statement. “Or where youth now live a more sedentary lifestyle than before – we can take those new recruits and can promote physical fitness and overall healthier living decisions into their everyday routines as Airmen.”
The Air Force is not the only military branch changing its standards. The Army decided last year to implement lower physical standards for women and older service members.