Experts: Tape test has huge margin of error

An airman is measured at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas. (Colin Kelly/Staff)

Back in April we asked for volunteers to take a free dunk tank test.

We wanted male and female service members who had scored at least an ”excellent” on their PT test, yet were forced to take the tape test and had difficulty passing it.

Following service-specific protocols, we taped 10 active-duty troops stationed in the Pacific Northwest and then had them undergo hydrostatic “dunk tank” testing — considered among the gold standards for determining actual body fat composition. We then compared those results to the tape testing methods used by the four services.

How did the accuracy of the tape test compare to the more extensive body fat test?

Staff writer Jon Anderson writes about the results in this week’s OFFduty:

Who are you calling fat?

It’s a question many in uniform ask themselves every time some busybody is stretching that ugly yellow tape around them. And for good reason. Promotions are at stake. Careers are on the line. And as the military downsizes, those considered overweight are getting jettisoned by the services in increasing numbers.

Figuring out who is too fat to fight, however, is easier said than done. Just because you weigh more than most troops doesn’t mean you’re necessarily fat. Or unfit — everyone knows that guy who looks chunky but can bench press a Mini Cooper, and outrun it, too.

All of the services use a simple tape test to make the call on who’s too fat. But while the tape test is cheap and easy to administer, many complain that it’s not accurate — a claim backed by top experts.

“It’s … awful for people who are very muscular,” says Dr. Jordan Moon, director of the Sports Science Center Research Institute in Denver. “The problem with the tape test is that it doesn’t account for muscle, it just accounts for size.”

Read the rest of Jon’s story in Air Force Times, Army Times, Marine Corps Times and Navy Times.

Do you have a tape test story? Tell us in the comments.