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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Navy loosens ‘out of date’ body fat limits

Petty Officer Lentoyi White does pushups while training with fellow Petty Officer Theresa White on Monday in Coronado, Calif. The pair are trying to lose weight and improve their fitness in order to pass the Navy fitness test and avert being discharged. (Lenny Ignelzi / Associated Press)
Julie Watson Associated Press

SAN DIEGO – The Navy is giving another chance to thousands of sailors who otherwise would be kicked out for failing their physical fitness tests because they exceeded body fat limits.

The service branch loosened its body fat restrictions in January and is allowing those who failed their exams three or more times to get one more opportunity to be tested this spring under the more lenient guidelines. The Navy said it has been losing too many talented sailors. Some were resorting to liposuction, diet pills and other measures to save their careers.

The Navy allowed about 2,400 sailors who passed a preliminary test under the new rules to stay in, reducing the number of failures on their records from three to one, said Navy spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Nate Christensen. In the past, three failures were grounds for being kicked out. The sailors will be measured again this spring and allowed two failures instead of three.

A 2014 Pentagon study found roughly two-thirds of Americans would not qualify to enlist in the armed services as a result of health problems, obesity and the failure to complete a high school education.

Navy Secretary Ray Mabus said the service is not lowering standards but rather adjusting to reality: People today are bigger but not necessarily fat.

“We were kicking more people out of the Navy for failing that, than for drugs,” Mabus said.

The number of sailors booted from the Navy annually because they did not meet physical standards has more than doubled from 694 in 2011 to 1,536 in 2014.

All branches are reviewing their job standards to modernize their forces and prepare for the opening of combat posts to women.

“There are a number of officers in jobs where it is really obvious why it would not make whole lot of difference what their weight is, other than to the extent that the culture in the military disrespects it and therefore, they can’t lead,” said former Army officer James Joyner, who teaches at the Marine Corps University.

He believes the military must change.

“Maybe there are two problems,” Joyner said. “One, obesity, and the other that the standards are out of date and not relevant.”

Some 34,000 sailors, roughly 10 percent of the force, have failed physical requirements at least once since 2011, Christensen said.

The Navy’s old policy allowed for 22 percent body fat for males ages 17-39 and 33 percent body fat for females ages 17-39.

The new limits allow sailors to pass with a maximum 26 percent of body fat for men and 36 percent for women.

Petty Officer Lentoyi White, 26, feared for her career after failing the physical test twice.

“I am very grateful for a second chance with this new policy,” said the single mother.

White uses a calorie-tracking app and does 30 minutes of cardio a day.

She has gone from 212 pounds to 188 and is confident she’ll pass this spring.