Boy Scouts Ban Obesity from Their Jamboree

At their quadrennial jamboree, the Boy Scouts banned obesity this year. Saying they designed this year’s event to be too physically demanding for boys with obesity, they published guidelines saying that no one with a BMI above 40 would be allowed to participate. Those with a BMI between 32 and 40 are subject to approval by the Jamboree Medical Staff, based on a detailed medical history. All others simply needed clearance from their physician, with a provision that those with a history of serious medical problems may be required to submit further documentation.

Speaking for the Scouts, Dan McCarthy asserted that their requirement “has motivated an enormous return in terms of both kids and adults getting serious about improving their health.” Scout spokesman Deron Smith stated that most of those who could not meet the requirements “self-selected and chose not to apply.”

Experts on obesity and physical fitness were not enthusiastic about the Scouts’ policy. Granting that the Scouts were on solid ground in protecting boys from activities that would not be medically safe, most called for activities that would fit the capabilities of boys at all levels.

The Obesity Action Coalition (OAC) issued a statement expressing strong disagreement with this exclusion because it further perpetuates weight bias against children affected by the disease of obesity.

“The BMI requirement is limiting physical activity for those needing it most and goes against the BSA’s own core value of ‘developing personal fitness.’ The opportunity to participate in the jamboree and increase one’s physical fitness should not be limited to a certain population of Scouts,” said Joe Nadglowski, OAC President and CEO.

Scott Kahan, Director of the Stop Obesity Alliance at George Washington University, commented:

Frankly, my most immediate reaction is thinking about several patients of mine who would be perfect fits for this sort of activity but would be excluded due to their weight. I hate thinking about them missing out on such an exciting opportunity, but it’s particularly heartbreaking to think about how they would feel when told that they’re too fat to participate.

 I’m quite certain the exclusion wouldn’t motivate them to lose weight; rather, it would likely make them want to cower in a corner somewhere and wish they were invisible. There is a somewhat pervasive, but misguided, belief that shaming and blaming motivates people to change. It doesn’t; it just makes them feel bad and often paralyzes change. We’ve been essentially ‘making fun of the fat kid’ since time immemorial, and childhood obesity rates have only increased.

Francesca Zavacky of the American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance pointed out:

PE teachers work at meeting students where they are at and improving their skills. Schools don’t exclude any children from physical education, and activities are modified to meet the developmental level of all children.

Robert Lustig, a well-known pediatric endocrinologist at UC San Francisco, was more blunt. “This is garbage,” he said. He pointed out that the thinking behind singling out kids with obesity is flawed:

One in five people with obesity are completely metabolically normal. They have no metabolic disease, will live a completely normal life, live to a completely normal age, and not cost the taxpayer anything. They’re just fat.

Conversely, up to 40% of the normal-weight population — including teens — have the same metabolic dysfunctions of obese people. They develop Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, arthritis and depression just as many obese people do. And they get to go to the Jamboree. That’s just not fair.

We’ve made considerable progress promoting fun physical activity for people of all abilities. Marginalizing children with limitations doesn’t help, it hurts.

Boy Scouts count respect among their twelve core values. It’s time to live up to it.

Click here to read more from the OAC, here to read more from Fox News, here to read more from USA Today, here to read more in the LA Times, and here to read the Boy Scouts policy.

Cub Scouts, photograph by U.S. Navy Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Kristopher S. Wilson / Wikimedia

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