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Study finds taller, heavier female soldiers outperform smaller peers

Female trainees and active-duty soldiers who are taller and heavier than their smaller counterparts performed better in common soldiering tasks (CSTs), according to a new study.

Published in the February issue of Military Medicine, the study evaluated 362 women by measuring height, body mass and body mass index in relation to physically demanding tasks, Stars and Stripes first reported.

The findings suggest the U.S. Army should consider reevaluating its physical standards for female soldiers, according to the authors’ analysis.

The trainees and soldiers were evaluated in the sandbag carry, moving under fire, casualty drag, casualty evacuation and road march, the study said, adding, “For testing, both the trainees and soldiers were fitted with a fighting load [63 to 90 pounds], which included personal protective equipment of varying weights.”

“In addition to task-specific training, performance of CSTs may be enhanced in tasks requiring strength and power by recruiting and retaining taller and heavier females with a [sic] higher BMIs,” the study said. “Allowances should be considered for soldiers and trainees who can successfully perform soldiering tasks with high physical demands despite less desirable [physical] measurements.”

Body mass index, BMI, is generally used as a measure of a person’s body fat ratio, calculated by dividing weight by height squared. A BMI of 25 to 29.9 is considered overweight, whereas 30 and above is considered obese, according to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.

The measurement may not be completely accurate, however, for all people, such as particularly muscular athletes.

Sgt. Danielle Farber and Staff Sgt. Jessica Smiley graduate U.S. Army Ranger School at Fort Benning, Ga., Dec. 13, 2019 (Sgt. Brian Calhoun/Army National Guard
Sgt. Danielle Farber and Staff Sgt. Jessica Smiley graduate U.S. Army Ranger School at Fort Benning, Ga., Dec. 13, 2019 (Sgt. Brian Calhoun/Army National Guard

The total test population comprised 133 female trainees from Fort Sill, Oklahoma, and Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, and 229 active-duty soldiers from Fort Carson, Colorado; Fort Steward, Georgia; and Fort Riley, Kansas.

The researchers are affiliated with the U.S. Army Research Institute for Environmental Medicine in Natick, Massachusetts, and the U.S. Army Public Health Center at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland, Stars and Stripes reported.

“The U.S. Army has relied heavily on the assessment of cardiovascular fitness and muscular endurance as an indicator of overall physical fitness and mission readiness,” the study noted. “Yet, the most essential common soldiering tasks have greater strength and power demands…[which] were performed better by the trainees and soldiers in this study who were taller and heavier.”

The findings demonstrated that soldiers with BMIs “near or within the adult overweight BMI category” performed better than their more compact counterparts.

The Army, moreover, should reevaluate the role or degree to which BMI calculations factor into performance analysis or MOS decisions, the study suggested.

Since 2016, all infantry, armor and field artillery battalions assigned to active-duty brigade combat teams have included female soldiers with gender-integrated battalions seeing deployments and multiple women earning Army Ranger tabs, Army Times previously reported.

This month, a report claimed the Army’s first female Green Beret is set to graduate in the coming weeks.

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