Epidemiology and Population Health

Revisiting the United States Army body composition standards: a receiver operating characteristic analysis



The objective for percent body fat standards in the United States Army Body Composition Program (ABCP) is to ensure soldiers maintain optimal well-being and performance under all conditions. However, conducting large-scale experiments within the United States Army to evaluate the efficacy of the thresholds is challenging.


A receiver operating characteristic (ROC) analysis with corresponding area under the curve (AUC) was performed on body mass index (BMI) and waist circumference to determine optimal gender-specific age cohort thresholds that meet ABCP percent body fat standards in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) III. A second dataset consisting of a cohort of basic training recruits (N = 20,896 soldiers, 28% female) with BMI and waist circumference measured using a 3D body image scanner was applied to calculate what percent of basic training recruits meet the ABCP percent body fat standards. Regression models to determine the contribution of different circumference sites to the predictions of percent body fat were developed using a database compiled at the New York Obesity Research Center (N = 500).


Optimal BMI thresholds ranged from 23.65 kg/m2 (17–21-year-old cohort) to 26.55 kg/m2 (40 and over age cohort) for males and 21.75 to 24.85 kg/m2 for females. The AUC values were between 0.86 and 0.92. The waist circumference thresholds ranged 81.35 to 97.55 cm for males and 77.05 to 89.35 cm for females with AUC values between 0.90 and 0.91. These BMI thresholds were exceeded by 65% of male and 74% of female basic training recruits and waist circumference thresholds were exceeded by 73% of male and 85% of female recruits. The single circumference that contributed most to prediction of body fat was waist circumference in males and mid-thigh circumference in females.


The ABCP percent body fat thresholds yield BMI thresholds that are below the United States Army BMI standards, especially in females which suggests the ABCP percent body fat standards may be too restrictive. The United States Army percent body fat standards could instead be matched to existing national health guidelines.

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We would like to thank Robert Bona from Human Solutions, LTC Jason Pieri, MAJ Brian Kriesel, and the Fort Jackson team for their support and assistance in compiling the data. We also appreciate the feedback given by an anonymous reviewer, which greatly improved the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Diana M. Thomas.

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Nelson, R., Cheatham, J., Gallagher, D. et al. Revisiting the United States Army body composition standards: a receiver operating characteristic analysis. Int J Obes 43, 1508–1515 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41366-018-0195-x

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