US/World

Liposuction Helps Troops Pass 'Fat Test': Soldiers' Desperate Measures Concern Physicians, Fitness Experts

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The growing number of U.S. soldiers resorting to liposuctions has caused experts to question the standards by which service members are evaluated. DVIDSHUB, CC BY 2.0

More and more American soldiers are turning to liposuction as a last-ditch effort to avoid the rough mockery and career-threatening demerits of flunking the U.S. Department of Defense’s fat test – a routine body fat evaluation that controls waist and neck measurements by sending chunky service members to so-called “pork chop platoons.”

Speaking to the Associated Press, plastic surgeon Adam Tattlebaum said that as the Defense Department’s looming “tape test” draws closer, anxious soldiers often come to him to remove excess fat that could otherwise cost them their reputation as well as future positions within the department. In certain cases, a poor assessment can even result in dismissal from duty. "They come in panicked about being kicked out or getting a demerit that will hurt their chances at a promotion," he told reporters.

The Defense Department’s tape test estimates a soldier’s body fat by measuring neck and waist circumference. Department officials argue that the results are crucial to a service member’s overall fitness profile, as those who exceed the fat limit rarely pass subsequent physical endurance tests like the Navy’s Physical Readiness Program. Since these endurance tests are designed to emulate the physical strains of combat, unfit soldiers are promptly ordered to spend months in a grueling nutrition and exercise programs known as “pork chop platoons” and “doughnut brigades.”

But now, the growing number of soldiers resorting to plastic surgery has caused fitness experts and physicians to question the standards by which service members are evaluated. Some argue that the weight tables used by the Pentagon have not yet been updated to reflect a bigger generation. As a result, soldiers of muscular builds may flunk the test as well.

"We're sending people away who could be amazing soldiers just because of two pieces of tape," said exercise physiologist Jordan Moon. "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."

Still, others believe that the test will always be a necessary component of military fitness evaluations, and that service members who flunk it only have themselves to blame. "I think we've gotten away with keeping ourselves accountable. Especially the older Marines have let things go," said Marine Staff Sgt. Leonard Langston, who is currently enduring the penalties of exceeding his maximum weight by 4 pounds. "And unfortunately, I'm an example of that."

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