The military branch has reportedly raised its body fat limits for new enlistees amid struggles to meet recruiting quotas
The US Air Force has reportedly opted to help ease its recruiting struggles by allowing fatter Americans to join the military branch, making potentially millions of obese young people eligible to enlist.
Under the new guidelines, male recruits will be allowed to carry up to 26% body fat, while females will have a limit of 36% body fat, Military.com reported on Tuesday, citing US Air Force Recruiting Service spokeswoman Leslie Brown. The previous limits were 20% for males and 28% for females.
“I can’t stress enough, we are not lowering our standards,” Brown said. Rather, the Air Force is “aligning” its rules with a Pentagon directive issued last year. That policy document required that all service members maintain a level of fitness and body composition to successfully perform all of their duties.
The American Council on Exercise classifies men with body fat percentages of 25 and higher as obese. The obese category begins at 32% for women. Allowing obese recruits will open up the Air Force to a huge pool of potential enlistees. An estimated 39.8% of Americans ages 20 to 39 are obese, according to the US Centers for Disease Control.
The US Army and Navy have tried to help address their recruiting woes by offering physical fitness preparatory courses – called pre-boot camp in the Army’s case – to give prospects who exceed body fat limits a chance to get in good enough shape to enlist.
The Air Force has estimated that it will be able to recruit an additional 50 to 100 new enlistees each month under its revised body fat limits. The new hires will later need to pass standard fitness tests, including a requirement for waist-to-height ratio, to stay in the Air Force.
Of the 34 million Americans in Generation Z – those born after 1997 – nearly 71%, are ineligible for military service, most commonly because of obesity, according to 2017 Pentagon data. Other common disqualifying factors include medical conditions, criminal records, drug use and failure to earn a high school diploma.
The Air Force has estimated that it will miss its recruiting goal for this year by around 10%, even after taking various steps to attract more enlistees. For instance, it eased rules to allow recruits with neck and hand tattoos, and it launched a program to give those who test positive for THC a chance to retest. Recruiting bonuses include up to $65,000 in student loan repayment.