Air Force extends enforcement deadline for new body composition test

by Vern Evans

Airmen and guardians who exceed the Air Force’s new waist-to-height ratio cutoff on annual physical fitness tests now have until at least the fall to comply before they can be punished.

The Air Force announced it would move away from its unpopular “tape test,” which graded troops on their waist circumference, in early 2023. It instead opted to compare that metric to service members’ height, arguing that it incentivizes healthy physical proportions rather than thinness alone.

Though the department said it would implement the new test in April 2023, troops had until April 1, 2024, to meet the new standard. Air Force spokesperson Master Sgt. Deana Heitzman confirmed April 5 that the deadline was extended by at least six months because of a delay in writing the new instruction — pushing enforcement into October at the earliest.

An April 4 Reddit post revealed the delay, saying the instruction is expected to publish within 90 days of April 1 — June 30 with weekends and holidays, or Aug. 8 when excluding them. Heitzman declined to provide a specific release date for the new regulation.

Once published, the Department of the Air Force would start enforcing the new rule after 180 days. That could push its full adoption into the fall, or further into 2025.

Excess abdominal fat is associated with heightened risk for heart disease, stroke, diabetes and other illnesses or injuries that could impact readiness.

The Air Force stopped including annual body circumference measurements in airmen’s PT test scores in 2020 amid worries that it was leading some troops to starve themselves. The new assessment still includes a measuring tape, but it is wrapped between the lowest rib and top of the hip bone — calculating the size of the smallest portion of the abdomen rather than the waist — then dividing that number by height in inches.

Those with a waist-to-height ratio of 0.55 or more are considered high risk and can be referred to a yearlong exercise program and medical evaluation. Those who fail to meet the standard once enforcement begins could face administrative action, including separation for repeated failures.

Last year, the Air Force loosened its rules on body fat for new recruits as it struggled to bring in new airmen, a challenge made more difficult by a nationwide obesity crisis. Those recruits will be subject to the new waist-to-height standards as well.

Courtney Mabeus-Brown is the senior reporter at Air Force Times. She is an award-winning journalist who previously covered the military for Navy Times and The Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk, Va., where she first set foot on an aircraft carrier. Her work has also appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Foreign Policy and more.

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