In the wake of my previous blog post about BMI and the Boy Scouts of America (BSOA), I’ve been reading some responses. And the responses I’ve been reading by various members and officials within the BSOA are troubling to say the very least. Let me give you some examples:
1. We haven’t turned anybody away because of BMI. In an article found in the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Adult leader Ron Blasak states, “there was no one in the Greater Cleveland Council who was turned away because of a BMI issue.” However, Blasak also admits that it’s possible “that someone read the requirements and shied away.” To which I reply, hmmm. Do you think so? Do you think that plastering BMI requirements all over the marketing materials and saying they will be strictly enforced just might make a kid fear that he will be shamed and ridiculed at this shindig? Do you find it surprising that your average 13-year-old might choose not to trap himself miles away from civilization with people who are convinced he can’t do anything?
2. We’re turning away kids with high BMI for their own good. In that same article, Blasak also states, “Overweight boys would have a tough time getting around and probably wouldn’t have much fun.” I have to wonder what evidence he is using to form this conclusion. BMI is a simple calculation based on height and weight. It doesn’t tell you anything about the fitness level of a potential participant. A Scout with a BMI in the “ideal” range may be very unfit and may be at greater risk than a stouter scout who exercises more and has greater functional fitness. Assuming that all the overweight kids will be miserable is just that, an assumption. And we all know what happens when you ASSuME.
We’ve given the scouts plenty of time to get thin. In many of the articles I’ve read, BSOA spokespeople are quick to point out that they released these health requirements two years in advance of the Jamboree, which should give the scouts plenty of time to get fit and achieve an acceptable BMI. In an article published by Fox News, BSOA spokesperson Deron Smith states:
“We published our height-weight requirements years in advance and many individuals began a health regimen to lose weight and attend the jamboree. But, for those who couldn’t, most self-selected and chose not to apply.”
To which I say, “You got it half right, but 50 percent is still a failing grade.” Over a two year period, it may be reasonable for a young person to make significant changes to their overall conditioning and fitness level. We know how to do that. What we don’t know how to do is make a fat kid into a thin kid–at least over the long term. We can make a fat kid into a thin kid temporarily. We might even get the timing right and make that fat kid thin at just the right moment to pass his physical and enjoy the Jamboree. But when we look at the statistics for that kid staying thin over the long haul, the success rates are dismal. So instead of teaching fat Scouts how to become thin scouts, we are teaching them the amazing, adult-level skill of weight cycling. This is the process of losing weight, gaining it all back plus a little more, losing weight, gaining it all back plus a little more and so on and so on. In fact, this process of BMI busting in order to make Jamboree weight seems ideally suited to the process of weight cycling. That’s what led me to suggest that maybe the BSOA should just make a “weight cycling” badge and be done with it. (Please see proposed badge design above.)
And what can I say about “self-selected and chose not to apply” other than “see point 1 of this blog”? Yup, if you tell pudgy kids and chubby kids and fat kids that they are not welcome in enough ways, with enough 14 point bold print on your website, they will ultimately get the message, “Don’t bother to apply, because we don’t want you.”
But the real story is not in the rhetoric that is flying back and forth on the airwaves and in cyberspace. The real story is the way that this policy will affect the lives of real kids. Kids like the one referenced in this recent NAAFA press release:
One mother reported to NAAFA in 2009 that her son was having issues attending Philmont High Adventure Boy Scout Camp in Cimmaron, NM. “Philmont has a weight standard and anyone over this standard is labeled unhealthy and cannot participate. I tried to explain to them that my son plays football, wrestles and runs relays, shot put, discus thrower, in track & field and a weight lifter. During the summer he swims, weightlifts and conditions for football. He has been conditioning for Philmont by hiking for 2-3 hours with a 50 pound pack on his back for the last 2 months. He weighs 261 lbs. and has been eating a 1200 – 1400 calorie diet trying to lose weight. Unfortunately he only lost 3 pounds… According to Philmont medical staff if he doesn’t weigh below 246, he will be sent home. It didn’t matter to them if he is active, only his weight number. I have watched my son condition for football and he can run circles around other players that are what society deems healthy.”
This is why this is such a big deal. We have kids who really want to go, who have put in the long hours of training required to be physically prepared for the challenge, who are probably in far better physical condition than many of their younger counterparts who are told, “go home fatty.” Given the rise in eating disorders among young men, I have a hard time understanding not only how this is considered reasonable, but also, how it can be considered responsible.
Maybe we need to help the BSOA along a little and propose some new HAES-friendly, body-positive awards. Got any ideas? I’d love to hear your proposals for new BSOA awards patches that are more likely to help young men accept and care for the bodies they already have and learn to feel comfortable in the skin they are in. Feel free to post your ideas in the comments below!
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This whole thing makes me livid. Luckily, I was boycotting scouts before it was cool, so none of my sons were scouts. Good thing, because not one of them falls within the normal BMI ranges. Even my nationally ranked shot-put/discus throwers. And when I heard about their training regimen I was absolutely completely in awe. Seriously, jump a hurdle while standing motionless right in front of it. No running jump. Add heavy chains to your weight lifting because it does something–I can’t remember what. They could run circles around kids at a boyscout event.
The most insulting line from above is ” But, for those who couldn’t, most self-selected and chose not to apply.” How condescending.
I’m curious about the number of leaders and BSA officials are meeting these criteria. Any idea on that?