Gender Issues:

Improved Guidance and Oversight Are Needed to Ensure Validity and Equity of Fitness Standards

NSIAD-99-9: Published: Nov 17, 1998. Publicly Released: Nov 17, 1998.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the military services' physical fitness and body fat standards to determine if: (1) differences exist among the military services in physical fitness standards and tests and the basis for any difference; (2) the services have a sound basis for adjusting the standards for gender and age; and (3) the Department of Defense (DOD) exercises adequate oversight of the fitness program.

GAO noted that: (1) significant differences exist in the tests and standards that the military services use to measure physical fitness; (2) these differences reflect varying levels of difficulty in required performance in all testing areas--cardiovascular endurance, muscular strength and endurance, and percentage of allowable body fat--and occurred for different reasons; (3) specifically, services did not always adhere to DOD guidance for fitness testing or, in some cases, interpreted the guidance differently; (4) service officials stated that confusion over the program's objectives, stemming from conflicting statements in DOD's guidance, contributed to differences among the services; (5) adjustments to account for physiological differences by age and gender are, according to experts, appropriate for general fitness and health standards, and DOD guidance requires that gender-based adjustments be made; (6) although each of the services adjusts for gender, the degree of adjustment varies considerably; (7) inconsistent and sometimes arbitrary approaches to adjusting the standards have contributed to questions concerning the fairness of the standards applied to military men and women; (8) body fat standards are also questionable due to: (a) differences in each service's equations for estimating body fat, resulting in estimates ranging between 27 and 42 percent for the same woman; (b) outdated measurement approaches that did not account for racial differences in bone density; and (c) changes in ethnicity and other population characteristics of the current military that question whether the populations used to develop the equations represent the populations in today's military; (9) despite a clear requirement for all services to test all personnel regardless of age, the Navy and, until recently the Marine Corps, have exempted older personnel from fitness testing for years because of concerns about being able to retain senior leaders; (10) DOD's guidance and oversight of the service physical fitness programs are not adequate; (11) multiple program objectives and lack of DOD monitoring of service compliance with key policies, have persisted since at least the early 1980s without resolution; (12) DOD has not enforced annual reporting requirements or identified a common set of statistics to use in monitoring the services' fitness programs; (13) the statistics currently maintained by the services lack standardization; and (14) the limited data available raise questions about program effectiveness because failure rates appear to be markedly different among the services and women appear to fail at significantly higher rates than men.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD published a revised version of its physical fitness regulation, Instruction 1308.3, in November 2002. The revised DOD Instruction (Paragraph 6.2.1) establishes a DOD-wide single approach to estimating body fat for the purpose of general fitness and health.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should revise the physical fitness guidance to establish a DOD-wide approach, based on current scientific research, to estimating body fat percentages.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD published a revised version of its physical fitness regulation, DOD Instruction 1308.3, in November 2002. The revised instruction establishes clear DOD-wide policy for age- and gender-based adjustments to fitness and body fat standards based on current science.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should revise the physical fitness guidance to establish clear DOD-wide policy for age- and gender-based adjustments to general fitness and body fat standards, requiring all services to derive them scientifically, clearly document the basis used, and submit exceptions for approval.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD published a revised version of its physical fitness regulation, DOD Instruction 1308.3, in November 2002. Paragraphs 4 and 5.4.1 of the revised instruction require that the services test personnel for aerobic capacity, muscular strength and endurance, and body fat at least annually.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should take steps to ensure that all services implement testing in all three areas cited in the regulation--cardiovascular endurance, muscular strength and endurance, and body composition.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD published a revised version of its physical fitness regulation, Instruction 1308.3, in November 2002. Paragraphs 6.1.1 and 6.1.3.1 state that the overall objective of the DOD physical fitness and body composition program is to enhance general fitness and general health.

    Recommendation: In order to clarify the purpose of the physical fitness program, the Secretary of Defense should revise DOD's regulations to: (1) clearly state that the objective of the physical fitness program is to enhance general fitness and health; and (2) make clear that the program is not intended to address the capability to perform specific jobs or missions.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In November 2002, DOD published a revised version of DOD Instruction 1308.3 (paragraph 7), its physical fitness regulation, that includes specific guidance to the services on what information they need to report to OSD, and what information they need to maintain.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should revise the physical fitness guidance to define the statistical information needed to monitor fitness trends and ensure program effectiveness, and require that this information be maintained by all services and provided in the currently required annual reports.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  6. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD Directive 1308.2 established the Joint DOD Committee on Fitness as the mechanism for providing policy and research coordination of the military services' fitness programs. The Joint Fitness Program Standards Working Group was established in June 1999. The purpose of that working group is to exchange ideas, address common concerns, benchmark best practices in the services and the private sector, help develop a strategic plan, and help develop proposed policies for DOD fitness programs.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should revise the physical fitness guidance to establish a mechanism for providing policy and research coordination of the military services' physical fitness and body fat programs.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  7. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD published a revised version of its physical fitness regulation , DOD Instruction 1308.3, in November 2002. The revised Instruction (paragraphs 5.4.1, 6.1.3.2, and 5.4.8) require that the services test military members for fitness, regardless of their age. These baseline generalized fitness test standards may be adjusted for age and gender.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should take steps to ensure that the services adhere to the policy requiring physical fitness testing of all servicemembers, regardless of age.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

 

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