U.S. Air Force Eases Body Fat Requirements To Draw More Recruits

The new fitness standards, which went into effect earlier this month, come as the service faces a growing pilot shortage.

The change in fitness standards comes as the Air Force grapples with meeting recruitment goals. [Credit: Shutterstock]

As part of a recruiting effort to draw more applicants, the U.S. Air Force is easing its body fat composition requirements.

According to the new standards, male troops will now be able to have 26 percent body fat compared with 20 percent, while female recruits may have 36 percent body fat—up from 28 percent.

"We realize the youth of today lead a more sedentary lifestyle than past generations and the Air Force's more restrictive standards were driving away otherwise qualified applicants," USAF Recruitment Service spokesperson Leslie Brown told Business Insider.

Brown also noted that the change could increase monthly intake by 50 to 100 recruits.  

The new BMI criteria was announced in January 2023 and implemented on April 1. In a statement, Lt. Gen. Caroline Miller, deputy chief of staff for Manpower, Personnel and Service, said, “The goal of the new program is to empower Airmen to take charge of their health and fitness through lifestyle enhancement to optimize readiness. Regardless of which risk category they fall in, everyone is encouraged to take advantage of the resources available to improve or maintain a healthy body composition.”

The change comes as the Air Force grapples with meeting recruitment goals. Last month, Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall said the branch would miss its active-duty recruitment goals by 10 percent as it fails to find qualified candidates. The branch narrowly met its recruitment goals last year after having to dip into its pool of delayed-entry applicants. 

Last spring, the Air Force was short 1,650 pilots and had resorted to bringing back retired pilots to help fill gaps, service officials told FLYING. By October, the gap had grown to 1,907 pilots, the Air Force Times recently reported.

"We are swimming upstream against reduced propensity to serve nationally across the board and a limited percentage of qualified candidates," Kendall said.

A 2022 study published by the Pentagon found that 71 percent of Americans ages 17-24 would be ineligible for military recruitment for causes such as obesity and a history of drugs. 

Additionally, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) found that one-third of Americans were too heavy to serve in the military.

While body fat composition standards are being lowered, the Air Force is stressing that the change is still in line with the Department of Defense policy. Members will still need to meet the same fitness standards as everyone else to stay in the service, including meeting the waist-to-height ratio requirements.  

Additionally, the Air Force has already made several other changes in order to attract a wider pool of applicants, such as allowing hand and neck tattoos and allowing recruits who test positive for THC to retest through a new pilot program. The Air Force is also offering several enlistment bonuses.

Amelia Walsh
Amelia WalshContributor
Amelia Walsh is a private pilot who enjoys flying her family’s Columbia 350. She is based in Colorado and loves all things outdoors including skiing, hiking, and camping.

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