Monday October 2, 2006

Body Over Mind

The body may win out over the mind when determining military promotions, according to UD research published in Military Medicine.

Army, Navy and Air Force physical fitness tests, which factor into promotions and awards, unfairly penalize heavier service men and women, according to research published in Military Medicine by Paul Vanderburgh, chair of the University of Dayton's health and sport science department.

"Not only are the current tests unfair, but they also fail to measure two things - how much someone can lift once and how quickly someone can carry a heavy object a certain distance - that are essential in various military tasks," Vanderburgh said, referring to absolute strength and aerobic power.

Vanderburgh, a former Army infantry officer, and Todd Crowder, a U.S. Military Academy associate physical education professor, noticed lighter West Point cadets had better test scores and set out to find why.

They found 198-pound men and 165-pound women scored 15 to 20 percent lower than 132-pound men and 100-pound women, even though they performed at the same relative level.

"As the body becomes larger, not fatter, its ability to move its weight does not increase at the same rate," Vanderburgh said. "These differences in the test scores can really add up because of the way the military develops test scores."

For example, the researchers determined that 77 push-ups for lighter males is equivalent to 67 push-ups for heavier males. After adding in similar effects for the sit-up and running portions of the Army's test, lighter men outscored heavier testers 300-256 despite performing at the same relative intensity.

Vanderburgh hopes the military will adopt correction factors that adjust scores of heavier service men and women to "even the playing field" and yield fairer scores.

While some may think that providing a handicap for being heavier is a reward for being fatter, Vanderburgh said UD's research team found that adding fat weight leads to poorer scores, even with correction factors.

For example, four pounds of fat on a 154-pound woman adds 53 seconds to her time in a three-mile run, while the adjustment only gives her a 17-second credit. So, she still is losing a net 35 seconds.

Vanderburgh will discuss his findings in June 2007 at the American College of Sport Medicine's annual meeting. The research was published in the August issue of Military Medicine.

For interviews, contact Paul Vanderburgh at (937) 229-4213.