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Marine petitions White House to revise the tape test

Jun. 19, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
Staff Sgt. Jeffrey Smith, an aircraft maintenance ground support Marine based in Okinawa, Japan, has launched a petition on Whitehouse.gov asking that the military find another way to measure the body fat of Marines who exceed weight standards for their height
Staff Sgt. Jeffrey Smith, an aircraft maintenance ground support Marine based in Okinawa, Japan, has launched a petition on Whitehouse.gov asking that the military find another way to measure the body fat of Marines who exceed weight standards for their height (Colin Kelly / Staff)
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After years of frustration with a military body-fat measuring system that experts have said is inaccurate, one active-duty Marine is petitioning the White House to force a change.

Staff Sgt. Jeffrey Smith, an aircraft maintenance ground support Marine based in Okinawa, Japan, has launched a petition on Whitehouse.gov asking that the military find another way to measure the body fat of Marines who exceed weight standards for their height. The tape test involves determining the circumference of a service member’s waist and neck with a tape measure, then using the ratio to determine body fat percentage.

In May, the Military Times publications published a story citing experts who compared the tape test body fat measurements for 10 service members to measurements taken with a hydrostatic dunk tank, considered among the gold standards for measuring body fat. The difference between the measurements ranged from nearly 12 percent to a staggering 66 percent, and in most cases the dunk tank yielded a lower result.

“We continue to process out good military service members based on extremely inaccurate data,” Smith wrote in the online petition. “There are other ways to test for body fat that are more accurate.”

The petition has earned slow but steady interest, with more than 370 signatures in just more than a week. Smith, a marathon runner who, at 5’11” and 211 pounds, has frequently struggled to meet tape test requirements, said he hopes to catch the eye of military leaders who have not been responsive to allegations that the tape test is ending the careers of good Marines.

“How many professionals are going to say something before someone says, ‘Hey, let’s revisit this,’ ” Smith said.

He said he has also reached out to experts directly for their help in pushing for a new system and is working to build support for the petition among Marine colleagues. The petition must receive 100,000 signatures by July 9 to receive an official response from the White House.

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