Thursday 09 Apr 2020 | 14:48 | SYDNEY
Thursday 09 Apr 2020 | 14:48 | SYDNEY

ADF: 'Cutting fat' more than a euphemism

27 May 2009 09:41

I’m shamed into admitting it — I am one of the 9,206 Australian Defence Force (ADF) personnel determined as either overweight or obese by a report recently tabled to the Senate Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence & Trade – a travesty broken by Paul Maley in the Australian last week.

The report used data presented in the form of the Body Mass Index (BMI), which has its limitations. For instance, I currently tip the scales at 74kg and measure a height of 172 cm, which if rounded up unkindly gives me a BMI of 26! According to a BMI calculator, the 'Acceptable' range is between 20 and 25 (Maley’s article cites a slightly different division of more than 25 as overweight). 'Overweight' is 26 to 30 and 'Obese' is over 31.

But using the BMI as a health measure is impractical on military personnel, particularly on soldiers whose profession depends on it. Try sprinting, dodging and climbing hills while at times wearing twenty kilos of gear and body armour, and you’ll get what I mean.

The problem rests with the use of information beyond its applicable parameters – a common fault with statistics. The BMI doesn’t distinguish fat from muscle tissue, and is therefore beyond useful application when measuring people with high muscle proportion, noting muscle’s greater density than fat. To put this in perspective, George Gregan’s previous match stats of 76 kg and 173 cm give him effectively the same result as me! 

But while modesty and prudence would stop further close comparison there (I have green eyes), the point remains: people who are selected and continually train for both explosive (anaerobic) and sustained (aerobic) physical activity will trend towards high muscle proportion. 

Of course, there are ADF members for whom the ‘mass’ in the BMI is more fat than muscle. And obesity in Defence is rightly a concern, as flagged by the ADF’s Surgeon-General, Major-General Alexander in January – as it is for Australian society in general. 

But even when using the maladroit BMI, the ADF’s given obesity rate is 6 percent lower than general society’s. So, I would suggest we don’t need to start cutting larger turrets in our armoured vehicles or retro-fitting bigger cockpits in our Super Hornets just yet.  I’d prefer to see the introduction of a more appropriate tool to measure the general health and fitness of the ADF as a group of non-standard individuals, by which we can focus efforts on real problem areas.

Photo by Flickr user Cookieevans5, used under a Creative Commons license.