Soldiers in the U.S. military are increasingly resorting to liposuction to remove excess fat from their midsections in order to pass the Pentagon's body-fat test.
Plastic surgeons say they've gotten many more military clients during the past few years because soldiers are worried about their careers during these tough economic times.
"They come in panicked about being kicked out or getting a demerit that will hurt their chances at a promotion," Maryland-based plastic surgeon Adam Tattelbaum told the AP.
Dr. Michael Pasquale of Aloha Plastic Surgery in Honolulu also said he has experienced a 30% spike in military liposuction clientele during the past two years.
They have to worry about their careers. With the military downsizing, it's putting more pressure on these guys."
Under the current guidelines, the Department of Defense uses a "tape test" to measure the circumference of the neck and waist to assess a soldier's body fat, which they say is closely tied to combat-readiness.
Critics say using the neck and waist measurements weeds out stocky or muscular soldiers who are not overweight but merely have thick necks or a thick build.
Fitness experts say the current test needs to be updated. They suggest using body mass index (which calculates body-fat percentage by using an individual's height and weight) or using body-fat calipers to measure the thickness of skin on three different parts of the body.
Troops who fail the current test are ordered to rigorous diet and exercise programs for several months and are fat-shamed by colleagues. And failing the test even once could stall promotions for years. Failing the test three times could get you discharged from the military.
Meanwhile, the number of soldiers who have been booted from the Army for being overweight has spiked tenfold during the past five years. Weight-related dismissals are far less common in the Marines.
In response to the criticism, officials say soldiers who exceed body-fat limits typically do poorly on fitness tests. They say the tape test has a margin of error of less than one percent, and is still the most accurate and cost-effective tool.
"We want everybody to succeed," said Bill Moore, director of the Navy's Physical Readiness Program. "This isn't an organization that trains them and says, 'Hey, get the heck out.' "