Bulky troops turn to liposuction to pass fat test

Associated Press
In a Thursday, Oct. 17, 2013 photo, a group of sailors and Marines who failed the so-called "tape test'' are led by an instructor on a three mile run as they work to improve their fitness and remain in the military, at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego. Doctors say a number of military personnel are turning to liposuction to remove excess fat from around the waist so they can pass the Pentagon's body fat test. Some service members say they have no other choice because the Defense Department's method of estimating body fat is weeding out not just flabby physiques but bulkier, muscular builds. A number of fitness experts and doctors agree, and they're calling for the military's fitness standards to be revamped. (AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi)
.

View gallery

SAN DIEGO (AP) — The soldiers often call Dr. Adam Tattelbaum, a plastic surgeon, in a panic. They need liposuction, and fast.

A number of military personnel are turning to the surgical procedure to remove excess fat from around the waist so they can pass the Pentagon's body fat test, which can determine their future prospects in the military.

"They come in panicked about being kicked out or getting a demerit that will hurt their chances at a promotion," said the Rockville, Md., surgeon.

Some service members say they have no other choice because the Defense Department's method of estimating body fat is weeding out not just flabby physiques but bulkier, muscular builds.

Fitness experts and doctors agree, and are calling for the military's fitness standards to be revamped, including the weight tables the Pentagon uses. They say the tables are outdated and do not reflect that Americans are bigger, though not necessarily less healthy.

Defense officials say only a small fraction of those who exceed body fat limits perform well on physical fitness tests.

"Those incidences are far and few between," said Bill Moore, director of the Navy's Physical Readiness Program.

"We want everybody to succeed. This isn't an organization that trains them and says, 'Hey, get the heck out.'"

The checks are designed to ensure troops are ready for the rigors of combat. Pentagon officials say the military does not condone surgically altering one's body to pass the test, though liposuction is not banned.

The Defense Department uses what is called a "tape test" to make a body fat estimate by taking measurements of the waist and neck.

Those who fail are ordered to spend months in a vigorous exercise and nutrition program, which Marines call the "pork chop platoon" or "doughnut brigade." Even if they later pass, failing the test once can halt promotions for years, service members say.

Failing three times can be grounds for getting kicked out, military officials say.

The number of Army soldiers booted for being overweight has jumped tenfold in the past five years from 168 in 2008 to 1,815. In the Marine Corps, the figure nearly doubled from 102 in 2010 to 186 in 2011 but dropped to 132 last year.

The Air Force and the Navy said they do not track discharges tied to the tape test.

Still, service members say they are under intense scrutiny as the military trims its ranks amid budget cuts and as the Afghanistan war winds down.

Dr. Michael Pasquale of Aloha Plastic Surgery in Honolulu said his military clientele has jumped by more than 30 percent since 2011, with about a half-dozen service members coming in every month.

"Some see this as unethical but I say, 'What? It's liposuction, for God's sake,'" the former soldier said. "They have to worry about their careers. With the military downsizing, it's putting more pressure on these guys."

Some go on crash diets or use weights to beef up their necks so they're in proportion with a larger waist. Pasquale said liposuction works for those with the wrong genetics.

"I've actually had commanders recommend it to their troops," Pasquale said. "They'll deny that if you ask them. But they know some people are in really good shape and unfortunately are just built wrong."

Fitness expert Jordan Moon said there is no reliable, economical way to measure body fat, and troops should be judged more by physical performance so they're not feeling forced to go to such lengths to save their careers.

"We're sending people away who could be amazing soldiers just because of two pieces of tape," said Moon, who has a doctorate in exercise physiology and has studied the accuracy of body fat measurements.

"Ninety percent of athletes who play in the NFL are going to fail the tape test because it's made for a normal population, not big guys," he added.

Marine Staff Sgt. Leonard Langston, 47, said he can only blame himself for weighing 4 pounds over his maximum weight of 174 pounds for his 5-foot-7 frame.

"I think we've gotten away with keeping ourselves accountable. Especially the older Marines have let things go," he said after sweating through 75 crunches with others ordered to the exercise program. "And unfortunately, I'm an example of that."

Studies have shown a correlation between waist size, body fat and physical endurance, military officials say, and the tape test is the best, most cost-effective tool available, with a margin of error of less than 1 percent.

Air Force Gen. Mark Walsh noted only about 348 of 1.3 million airmen have failed the tape test but excelled otherwise.

Even so, his branch heeded the complaints and modified its fitness program in October. The Air Force obtained a waiver from the Pentagon so airmen who fail the tape test but pass physical fitness exams can be measured using the Body Mass Index, which is a chart based on an individual's weight and height.

Marine Staff Sgt. Jeffrey Smith applauded the move. Smith said he has won five Navy achievement medals but has not been promoted since failing the tape test once in 2009.

"They call you names like 'fat bodies,'" Smith said. "They talk a lot of trash to you and put you down quite often."

He launched an online White House petition this summer to talk to leaders about the tape test.

The 1,700 signatures fell short of the 100,000 needed to get a response, but Smith said the Air Force gives him hope other branches might also heed the complaints.

"There's got to be something better for Marines who are working hard but just born like a tree stump," Smith said.

View Comments (1163)

Recommended for You

  • Luggage piece found on French island near possible MH370 debris

    Part of a bag was found Thursday on the French Indian Ocean island of La Reunion not far from plane debris which has fuelled speculation it may be from missing flight MH370. "The piece of luggage was here since yesterday but nobody really paid attention," said Johnny Begue, a member of a local…

    AFP
  • Chicago man cleared after 17 years in prison shot dead

    CHICAGO (AP) — A Chicago man who served 17 years in prison for murder before being cleared of the crime has been shot and killed almost three years after being released from prison, police said Wednesday.

    Associated Press
  • Family Pet-Sitter Helps Herself To Homeowner's Possessions

    DEAR ABBY: A trusted and beloved family member who takes care of my cats -- and therefore has a key to my house -- has been stealing things like cleaning supplies, knickknacks, family pictures, etc. Most of them have little monetary value. But imagine my surprise when I spotted some of my missing…

    Dear Abby
  • Turkey onslaught on Kurds, after IS attack, fuels anger

    DIYARBAKIR, Turkey (AP) — Just when it seemed Turkey was getting serious about the fight against IS, it has turned its military focus to pounding its old foe: the Kurdish rebels.

    Associated Press25 mins ago
  • An American Dentist Killed Zimbabwe’s Famous Lion

    Cecil the lion, a famous black-maned resident of Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park, died at the hands of an American dentist, conservationists claim. “Mr. Palmer shot Cecil with a bow and arrow but this shot didn't kill him,” Johnny Rodrigues, chairman of the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force, said in…

    TakePart.com
  • Eight family members decapitated in north Mexico

    Eight people from the same family, including two minors, were kidnapped by masked gunmen and their decapitated bodies were found days later in northern Mexico, authorities said Wednesday. The bodies were found after a ninth member of the Martinez family escaped Sunday's abduction near Casa Quemada,…

    AFP
  • Russia reassures Israel over Iran nuclear deal

    Russian President Vladimir Putin told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday that the deal on Iran's nuclear program would improve security in the Middle East and guaranteed that Tehran would not acquire nuclear arms. Israel plans to lobby the U.S. Congress not to approve the…

    Reuters
  • Dashcam catches off-duty cop threatening to put 'hole in head' of driver

    Technically Incorrect: A Massachusetts driver makes a wrong turn. What happens next, all filmed on his dashcam, has led to an investigation. And yes, it's now on YouTube.

    CNET
  • Hidden Security Cameras Are Shocking Surprise For Daughter

    DEAR ABBY: I'm a 19-year-old woman in college who still lives with my parents. I found out something several weeks ago that's bothering me, and I need advice badly. Years ago, after a robbery, my parents installed security cameras outside our house. I knew about them because they were visible. But…

    Dear Abby
  • Jon Stewart signing off 'Daily Show' fake newscast for real

    NEW YORK (AP) — After more than 16 years and nearly 2,600 telecasts, Jon Stewart can feel proud of his scads of Emmys and his pair of Peabody Awards, his cultural gravitas (he hung with the Prez, both on and off the air!), even his reprobate status at Fox News.

    Associated Press
  • Four-day week for Georgia public school district: Does it work?

    This is the second consecutive year that the school district is operating with this atypical schedule, and metrics indicate the switch has had a positive effect on the students. “It has increased our discipline, our attendance is good, teacher attendance as well," said Jeff Martin, Chattooga High…

    Christian Science Monitor59 mins ago
  • Play

    Custom truck built by father and son stolen in Lemoore

    A Lemoore man is on the hunt for his stolen pick-up truck. The classic custom ride holds significant sentiment to its owner, who built the truck with his late father.

    KFSN – Fresno
  • Taliban disavows Afghan peace talks after leader declared dead

    By Kay Johnson KABUL (Reuters) - The Taliban's official spokesman disavowed peace talks with the Afghan government on Thursday, throwing fledgling efforts to negotiate an end to 14 years of war into disarray. The statement came a day after the Afghan government said that Mullah Omar, the elusive…

    Reuters
  • Trump leads Republicans, but Democrats thump him: poll

    Bombastic US billionaire Donald Trump handily leads all fellow Republicans in the 2016 presidential race, though Hillary Clinton and other Democrats trump him in head-to-head matchups, a poll said Thursday. Trump plunged into the crowded Republican nomination battle last month, and has since…

    AFP
  • Internet mauls dentist accused of illegal kill of popular lion

    Technically Incorrect: Walter Palmer, a dentist in Minnesota, has his Yelp entry attacked by those not fond of his allegedly illegal killing of Cecil the lion in Zimbabwe.

    CNET
  • Killer deal: Amazon will pay you $10 to buy a $30 Google Chromecast

    Google’s little Chromecast dongle is pretty awesome. The device plugs into the HDMI port on any HDTV or monitor and instantly gives users access to movies, TV shows, videos, music, photos and more that can be streamed from any Android device. Best of all, perhaps, the Chromecast is wonderfully…

    BGR News
  • Play

    K-9 Officer Dies After Cruiser`s Air Conditioning Malfunctions

    A K-9 officer has died as the result of heat stroke, according to the Muldrow Police Department. K-9 Zeke had been with the department for more than four years.

    Tribune