Banned from the Jamboree

August 2nd, 2013 by Andrea Bennett

Should the Boy Scouts have banned overweight scouts and leaders from its biggest annual event?

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The Responsibility Project

About 30,000 Boy Scouts and 7,000 scout leaders met for this year’s National Jamboree, 10 days of camping, zip-lining, rock climbing and other outdoor activities. But the Jamboree is under scrutiny for its new mandate that no scout or leader with a body mass index (BMI) of 40 or above could attend.

The National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance protested, and issued a demand that the Boy Scouts “reconsider their discriminatory practices and admit camp attendees NOT based on their physical fitness, NOT based on their body size, but based on their active status as a boy scout.” Leaving scouts out of the jamboree only furthers the stigma against larger boys, the group asserted.

CNN reported that most scouts who could not meet the BMI requirement didn’t even apply to attend the Jamboree, so the Boy Scouts organization doesn’t have a count on the number of kids impacted, and they assert that they haven’t received a reaction from parents.

According to Deron Smith, director of public relations for the Boy Scouts, the initiative isn’t meant to discriminate. “This policy is not meant to keep anyone out at all, and it’s just to make sure that they’re safe,” he said. “We offer thousands of summer camp experiences that do not have this requirement.”

It’s worth noting the reasoning behind the Boy Scouts’ decision. For one, the program isn’t banning boys or leaders with a BMI greater than 40 from scouting in general, but from an event that is physically demanding and potentially dangerous even for very fit scouts.

“The new Jamboree site is a mountainous 10,000 acres and, because there will be no buses or other motor vehicles to move people around, participants will have to hike miles, often uphill, each day from activity to activity,” Slate’s J. Bryan Lowder writes. In fact, the organizers announced the change in location and health requirements two years ago in order to give leaders and scouts proper time to prepare.

What may be the bigger question is why the Boy Scouts chose BMI as their metric. Many critics have pointed out that teenagers might have wildly fluctuating body mass compositions because their bodies themselves are in flux. In addition, the Boy Scouts’ website specifies that a gray zone category exists for scouts and leaders whose BMI is lower than 40 but higher than 32. They will have to give the jamboree’s medical staff a health history, health data and a recommendation from a personal health care provider.

Did the Boy Scouts of America do the responsible thing by setting a standard and warning scouts and leaders well in advance, or should they have developed a more inclusive program, so that every active scout could participate? And should they have used a hard-and-fast number like BMI, or a general fitness test to determine who could participate?