No More Tape? Marines Turn to ‘BIA’ Machines To Battle the Bulge

December 29, 2022Noelle Wiehe
Marines BIA body mass

Maintaining a healthy weight is important for military members to stay fit to fight. For decades, the body mass index was a key tool used by the armed forces to determine if a service member was at an appropriate weight for their height. A fallback test involved measuring tape, which was used to tabulate the circumference of a person's body. US Air Force photo illustration by Airman 1st Class Destinee Sweeney.

The Marines are looking for a few fat bodies, and now they have a machine to better measure the plump and help the flabby get in shape.

According to the service’s Training and Education Command, the bioelectrical impedance analysis machine has reported for duty. It uses a painless electrical current to measure the lean and fat masses deposited within a Marine.

Beginning on Jan. 1, the Corps will use a BIA scan to determine if a Marine meets the service's height and weight regs, or not. Those standards were created by a panel of Pentagon experts 42 years ago.

But that doesn’t mean the old tape test is going away.

The traditional body circumference measurement technique will still be used, but Marines who fail the test have seven days to undergo a scan by one of the service's 257 InBody 770 BIA gadgets to see how portly they really are.

Marines body mass, BIA

A US Marine participates in a body composition assessment on Aug. 22, 2022, by undergoing a bioelectrical impedance analysis scan at The Basic School on Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia. Beginning Jan. 1, 2023, Marine units will adopt what commanders believe is a more accurate and unbiased method of body composition assessment before they order Marines into the body composition program. US Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. George Nudo.

Marines who flunk both the tape and BIA tests can be ordered to enter a remedial diet and exercise program to erase the pudge, or face administrative discharge.

But those blessed as lean by a BIA scan won’t have to join the program.

The new regulations stem from a survey last year by the US Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine that was designed to better measure the body composition of modern service members.

Researchers scanned 2,175 Marines — 700 women, 196 of whom had recently delivered babies, and 1,400 men.

The survey revealed that tape testing led to too many Marines being wrongly classified as tubby. And those findings echoed decades of complaints from service members that the old method failed to accurately measure body composition, especially the tissue and bone masses of muscular Marines.

Marines body mass index, tape test, BIA

A US Marine Corps senior drill instructor with Charlie Company, 1st Recruit Training Battalion, leads new Marines during a motivational run at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego, Dec. 15, 2022. The motivational run is the last physical training event Marines conduct while at MCRD San Diego. US Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Julian Elliott-Drouin.

Adopting BIA makes the Marines a little different, at least compared with their sister services.

Other armed forces have embraced dual energy X-ray absorptiometry, or DEXA, to better measure bulky bodies.

Originally designed to calculate bone density, DEXA models a person’s mass by separating it into bone mineral, fat tissue, and fat-free soft tissue composition, and then measuring each of the three components to get a sense of whether someone is overweight, or not.

BIA, on the other hand, works by charting impedance.

For example, water inside a body offers lower impedance to a weak electrical current. A more muscular Marine will likely retain more body water, so a scan that shows lower impedance to water within the body also reveals a leaner person.

Marines body fitness, BIA

US Marines with 1st Marine Logistics Group participate in a ring of fire as part of physical training during Corporals Course 3-18 at Camp Pendleton, California, Feb. 2, 2018. Marines believe that taking charge of hard physical training during group exercises creates opportunities to learn leadership traits. US Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Adam Dublinske.

Corps commanders believe BIA best fits their institutional commitment to physical fitness for all Marines.

“It's not much of a cultural shift. We've always embraced physical fitness,” said Capt. Danielle Phillips, a Training and Education Command spokesperson. “We're not competing with the other services. We are uniquely interested in our own capability and developing it.”

Commanders hope the machines also will help Marines trying to erase the flab and comply with height and weight standards. Routine retesting with the scanners will help Marines measure their progress, pruning away the paunch without harming their overall health.

Phillips said that makes a Marine “less of a spectator in your own health and fitness, and more of an advocate. And that's what the Marine Corps wants.”

“It's getting back to a standard but it's doing it in a way where Marines are maintaining health and safety,” she told Coffee or Die Magazine.

Read Next: A Marine Corps Veteran Finds His Calling Building Precision Rifles

Noelle Wiehe
Noelle Wiehe

Noelle is a former staff writer for Coffee or Die through a fellowship from Military Veterans in Journalism. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and interned with the US Army Cadet Command. Noelle also worked as a civilian journalist covering several units, including the 75th Ranger Regiment on Fort Benning, before she joined the military as a public affairs specialist.

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