Volunteer Testing Begins in Marines' Groundbreaking Body Composition Study

U.S. Marine completes a jump landing.
In this screenshot from a Marine Corps video, a U.S. Marine completes a jump landing as part of a body composition study. (Screen grab of a U.S. Marine Corps video by Mathew Gleeson)

The Marine Corps has formally kicked off a scientific study that may upend one of the most maligned aspects of life in the service: height and weight standards that many complain are outdated and prone to punishing those with bulky muscle.

The Corps, in partnership with the Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine, is testing volunteers at Quantico, Virginia, to get a better sense of the build and body composition of today's Marine and develop better standards and methods to assess fitness moving forward.

"This study is one of the most technologically advanced studies on the topic since the 1980s," Capt. Lara Soto, a Marine Corps human performance analyst, said in a new video promoting the effort. "Information gathered through this study will help inform the future of [body composition program] standards in the Marine Corps."

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Between now and March 2022, officials hope to bring in 600 to 800 volunteers for a five-part, 30-minute assessment that includes not only a standard weigh-in and circumference measurement, but also highly accurate screenings of fat, bone and muscle composition and an assessment of explosive power and strength.

"It has been a long time since those [tape-test standards] were first established, and it was a 1980s population," Karl Friedl, the Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine's senior research scientist for physiology, told Military.com in April. "We're training differently, and physique may be changing, especially with more strength training by men and women. We want to see how reliable those [measurements] are for ... a current population."

The volunteer assessment includes a 3D body surface scan that can determine body type and composition, followed by a dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry, or DXA, scan that can go even deeper, measuring bone density and soft-tissue fat. Female Marines will be given a pregnancy test prior to the 12-minute DXA scan, a graphic describing the volunteer assessment says.

The Marine Corps is conducting a Body Composition Study from June 2021 until the 2nd quarter of 2022.
The Marine Corps is conducting a Body Composition Study from June 2021 until the 2nd quarter of 2022. (U.S. Marine Corps/Cpl. Audrey Schmitt Alves)

Marines will be able to view their own scan data and composition calculations in a printed-out report.

Next, Marines will undergo a bioelectrical impedance analysis that consists of placing two electrodes on the body, one each on the hand and foot. A low electrical current is then pulsed through the body. The electricity's rate of flow can determine the amount of water in the body, which then allows researchers to make an accurate calculation of body fat.

The final test in the evaluation is the counter-movement jump, in which Marines will jump and land with full force on a specially designed pressure plate. This measures their explosive lower-body power, which can provide insight into overall speed and strength.

HIstorically, Marine Corps height and weight standards have had far less basis in scientific data -- it did not even introduce age-specific standards until 2008. It remains unclear how the service will use the data it collects in the new effort, but officials have said it could inform not only the Marine Corps Body Composition Program, but also other services' fitness and appearance standards.

Volunteers are being accepted at Camp Barrett in Quantico; The Basic School is also inviting junior officers to participate for a parallel study that assesses them at the beginning and end of their six-month training cycle. Marines who want to be part of the effort will be asked to present their basic training record and most recent fitness test scores; troops of all performance levels, including postpartum Marines, will be included.

-- Gina Harkins contributed to this report.

-- Hope Hodge Seck can be reached at hope.seck@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @HopeSeck.

Related: Marines Need Volunteers to Help Them Reassess Body Standards

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