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The Boy Scouts' ban on BMI: bullying or sensible move?

Posted by on Jul. 24, 2013 at 5:11 PM
  • 35 Replies

The Boy Scouts' ban on BMI: bullying or sensible move?

By J. Bryan Lowder
Slate
Posted: 07/21/2013 12:01:00 AM CDT

NEW YORK -- Every four years, thousands of Boy Scouts converge on a single site to celebrate the National Jamboree for 10 days of camping, camaraderie and outdoor activities.

This year's gathering convened on Monday. Although sunny weather prevails at the Bechtel Family National Scout Summit Reserve in West Virginia, a shadow was cast over the event because of a controversial new policy by the Boy Scouts of America. And no, it's not the decision to allow openly gay scouts but not the adult leaders they might grow into.

As of this year, scouts and adult leaders with body mass indexes of 32 or higher could attend the Jamboree only after consultation with camp medical staff. Those with BMIs higher than 40 were banned from coming at all.

Some critics have decried the BMI rule as fat-shaming bullying, and I can understand why it looks that way. As an Eagle Scout myself, I like to believe that scouting has something useful to offer every boy of any weight.

Imposing limits on who is eligible to attend one of the biggest events in scouting doesn't jibe with that ideal. However, after looking into the reasoning behind the -5/8policy, these accusations seem a bit overblown and ill-informed.

To be clear, the organization is not banning higher-than-40 BMI boys or leaders from scouting in general, but rather from this specific event. That's because -- before you even get to the physically demanding and potentially dangerous "high-adventure" activities like white-water rafting, high-ropes and rock climbing -- navigating the Summit Reserve itself is a formidable physical challenge.

The new Jamboree site is a mountainous 10,000 acres. There are no motor vehicles, so participants must hike miles, often uphill, from activity to activity. Event organizers announced the change in the 2013 location and health requirements two years ago in the hope that scouts and leaders would use the time to get in shape.

Many rightly will point out that the BMI is a notoriously bad measure of fitness, especially when applied to teen-agers whose body compositions can fluctuate rapidly as a natural part of growing up.

Although the organization has not released the number of those barred from attending, should we assume that perfectly capable scouts are being excluded because of an imprecise number? Many super fit athletes, after all, are considered "obese" on the BMI scale because of their enhanced muscle mass.

But let's be real -- we are not talking about NFL linemen. Few teen-age boys and adult leaders are going to fall into that category.

Although a fair possibility exists that someone with a BMI a bit higher than 30 -- a 5-foot-6 male who weighs 200 pounds -- could be capable of mastering the Summit, someone scoring 40 -- a 5-foot-6 male who weighs 250 pounds or more -- almost certainly could not.

So a cutoff at a BMI of 40 might be physically reasonable. But is it necessary?

After all, this is not the first time that scouts have had to satisfy fitness or other health requirements before participating in an activity. Fitness tests are built into the program. There's a required merit badge for it, and health checks are routine before most big events.

A person with such a high BMI likely couldn't participate in most of the physical aspects of scouting on a weekly basis, not to mention the special case of the Jamboree, so the higher-than-40 furor may be a case of being offended for a group that doesn't exist.

What about the grayer area, the scouts and leaders who fall in the range between 32 and 39.9? Is the use of BMI as a screening device warranted in those cases?

Probably not. According to Slate writer Daniel Engber, who has reported extensively on BMI and obesity issues, a better fitness measure would be to simply measure fitness, via the kinds of tests that scouts already use.

He also points out that scouts and leaders who have had a previous heart attack or stroke -- clear risk factors for health problems at the Jamboree -- may be admitted to the Jamboree with a doctor's permission. In contrast, the much more ambiguous BMI metric may not be excused as easily.

I agree with Engber that the higher BMI scrutiny is out of whack, but having been to scout camp many times, I also doubt the screening will be as harsh in practice as it sounds on paper. Scout leaders want as many scouts as possible to have fun and be active.

But the desire for participation must be balanced with safety.

Scout camps usually are remote, meaning that if a health crisis or injury occurs, it can be difficult to get the victim to a hospital. Having seen a fellow scout airlifted out of a gorge by helicopter after falling during a climb, I can attest to a real concern that has nothing to do with shaming anyone.

IN PERSPECTIVE

The BMI policy undoubtedly is based on concerns about safety at the Jamboree and the increase in obesity among American youth.

Indeed, BSA leaders have been explicit that one goal is to encourage overweight scouts to improve their fitness. A scout is, after all, called on to be "physically strong."

However with research increasingly suggesting that it is possible to be overweight and fit, the BSA should make its policy more fitness-focused. It may not be as easy as setting a numerical cutoff, but it will help to include as many boys as possible as safely as possible.

http://www.twincities.com/health/ci_23687305/boy-scouts-ban-bmi-bullying-or-sensible-move

by on Jul. 24, 2013 at 5:11 PM
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Replies (1-10):
atlmom2
by Susie on Jul. 24, 2013 at 5:38 PM
BMI of 40 is morbidly obese and in serious shape. 32 is very obese also. Probably do not want the liability. Sad, but somethings gotta give. Majority of them got that way because parents allowed them to over eat and not exercise. I would love to see a child with 32 or 40 BMI that was as physically fit as one with a BMI of 17 or 20.
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momto3infl
by Bronze Member on Jul. 24, 2013 at 6:18 PM

 I am all for it.  And again the media got it wrong.  These stipulations have always been in place Jambo was held at a new High Adventure center-all these centers have strict guidelines my dd with her Venture Crew just went to Philmont out west she had a huge physical here and once they got there before going on the trail she had another-one of the adults who was a last min replacement was sent home was over the weight limit and just at BMI level but weight caused him to be sent home.  All of my kids have a BSA scout physical yearly for the High Adventure Cope and rappelling center we have locally due to my husband is an instructor there.  I have only hear the adults not kids that the 40BMI hits more.

bizzeemom2717
by Jen on Jul. 24, 2013 at 6:57 PM
I agree they have to have safety regs in place.
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boys2men2soon
by Kimberly on Jul. 24, 2013 at 8:18 PM

I understand and agree that one must be physically fit to participate, but I don't like the idea of using BMI as a measuring device.




02nana07
by Ida on Jul. 24, 2013 at 8:46 PM

 As a former scout leader I think it is a good idea considering the physical activity it will require

HilbillyMamaof3
by on Jul. 24, 2013 at 9:15 PM
I was outraged at first. As a former GS leader of some "big girls" I think this would be embarrassing for the boys. Many times at camp the "big girls" were miserable though and I do understand the restriction.

I understand the need to be able to physically meet the demands of the activities, but I also think it's important to include everyone. If they don't all ready, Boy Scouts need to offer incentives, badges and programs that promote healthy eating and exercise. And if a child that does not qualify and looses the weight he should be awarded with something special and recognized for his achievement.

Barabell
by Barbara on Jul. 24, 2013 at 9:21 PM
1 mom liked this

My son is going to a well check for a Boy Scout camp this Friday. Looking at that form, it wants the doctor to sign off the participant is within a certain weight range for their height and that they're physcially capable of doing all the activities. Seeing this article makes me wonder if it's based on a BMI range. 

This is his 3rd summer of having to complete the form with a doctor's signature, and I didn't think anything of it in the past because I know if he was out of that range that he probably couldn't complete what's required at camp.

Another interesting side note is that the form we have to complete (according to our district council) has a minimum weight on it too. 

Quoting boys2men2soon:

I understand and agree that one must be physically fit to participate, but I don't like the idea of using BMI as a measuring device.


Barabell
by Barbara on Jul. 24, 2013 at 9:25 PM

As a former GS myself, I know that the BS camps are much more physically demanding. My son is active in sports year round (as you probably know since we're both active in the Kids' Sports and Activities group), and he still comes home exhausted from BS camp. Much more so than his overnight hockey camp. Hockey is a really demanding sport, and they spend about 1/2 the day or more on physical hockey training.

I really think it is a safety issue. Even though I'm overweight myself, I think it's good that BS has these restrictions for the well-being of all the participants. 

I also know that different district councils run things different, but looking at the form for the doctor to sign off on, it seems like the doctor can make exceptions if the person is actually fit enough to handle it. There are probably a very few outliers that just going by BMI doesn't catch. Rare, but possible.

Quoting HilbillyMamaof3:

I was outraged at first. As a former GS leader of some "big girls" I think this would be embarrassing for the boys. Many times at camp the "big girls" were miserable though and I do understand the restriction.

I understand the need to be able to physically meet the demands of the activities, but I also think it's important to include everyone. If they don't all ready, Boy Scouts need to offer incentives, badges and programs that promote healthy eating and exercise. And if a child that does not qualify and looses the weight he should be awarded with something special and recognized for his achievement.


Barabell
by Barbara on Jul. 24, 2013 at 9:28 PM
1 mom liked this

I'm with you. My son has been having to get doctor waivers the last few summers for his overnight boy scout camp. There are weight ranges correlating to height on that form, and I never thought before about it being bullying. 

Quoting momto3infl:

 I am all for it.  And again the media got it wrong.  These stipulations have always been in place Jambo was held at a new High Adventure center-all these centers have strict guidelines my dd with her Venture Crew just went to Philmont out west she had a huge physical here and once they got there before going on the trail she had another-one of the adults who was a last min replacement was sent home was over the weight limit and just at BMI level but weight caused him to be sent home.  All of my kids have a BSA scout physical yearly for the High Adventure Cope and rappelling center we have locally due to my husband is an instructor there.  I have only hear the adults not kids that the 40BMI hits more.


bizzeemom2717
by Jen on Jul. 24, 2013 at 10:24 PM
I am a former GS leader as well. I think it's wise as well as a healthy precaution to do the weight limit and a nec precaution unfortunately. It was VERY difficult to even lead a simple hike with some of the bigger girls on our troop and sadly this started young, like 1-2nd grade with parents making excuses.

Quoting HilbillyMamaof3:

I was outraged at first. As a former GS leader of some "big girls" I think this would be embarrassing for the boys. Many times at camp the "big girls" were miserable though and I do understand the restriction.



I understand the need to be able to physically meet the demands of the activities, but I also think it's important to include everyone. If they don't all ready, Boy Scouts need to offer incentives, badges and programs that promote healthy eating and exercise. And if a child that does not qualify and looses the weight he should be awarded with something special and recognized for his achievement.



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