Action Man comes in a bigger size as Army changes weight limit

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The Independent Online

The Army is to open its ranks to a generation of super-heavy soldiers after lifting a ban on new recruits over a certain weight.

The Ministry of Defence has decided weight limits designed to screen out overweight and unfit applicants are also excluding some of the strongest candidates. Previously men with a body mass index (BMI) of more than 28 have been barred from joining the military, meaning that world-class rugby players such as England's Lawrence Dallaglio and New Zealand's Jonah Lomu would have been rejected.

But by extending the threshold to 32 - two points above the World Health Organisation's definition of obesity - a 6ft recruit could weigh almost 17 stone and still be admitted. The limit for women remains the same at 28.

An MoD spokesman said: "It's reflecting the fact that the BMI is not a perfect science. It's just an indication of your fitness level. People like Lawrence Dallaglio are technically overweight. We are doing this because not all good applicants fit into the categories."

BMI is calculated by squaring your height in metres and then dividing your weight in kilograms by the result. The weight test has been used because bigger soldiers were often unable to take on certain roles. Drivers' seats in tanks, for example, offer limited space. However, it is recognised that brute strength can be useful for tasks such as carrying artillery for extended periods, and building bridges.

The MoD insists the change will not lead to any "lowering of standards". Candidates must still pass fitness tests, with those aged under 30 obliged to do 44 press-ups and 50 sit-ups in two minutes, before running a mile-and-a-half in 10min 30sec.

Recruitment has been a problem for the Army in recent years, which the Government blames on high employment levels in the economy overall.

The Iraq War has also been held responsible for the shortage of applicants. Army chiefs have admitted that bad publicity associated with equipment shortages, allegations of abuse and courts martial have affected recruitment.

One of the reasons for the rule change was that it was excluding many Fijians who are much bigger, on average, than British recruits. More than 1,800 Fijians serve in the Army and many who want to join were excluded under the old rules.

In 1972, Staff Sergeant Talaiasi Labalaba, an unusually large Fijian, became a well-known hero of the SAS after manhandling an artillery gun into position so it could fire shells into advancing Communist rebels in Oman.