Over 30,000 Boy Scouts are attending the National Scouts Jamboree in West Virginia between July 15-24 — but those with a Body Mass Index (BMI) over 40 aren’t among them.
The Boy Scouts of America are barring any scout with a BMI of 40 or more from participation in the Jamboree, which involves physical activities such as hiking and rock-climbing, altogether. Scouts who fall between a BMI of 32 and 39.9 — the range meeting the technical definition of obesity — are able to participate, but must present BSA with a detailed health history, additional medical data, and a recommendation for physical activity signed by a doctor.
BSA spokespeople say that the guidelines are based on health safety concerns, since many of the Jamboree’s activities are strenuous. But critics say that BMI — which is a simple ratio of height to weight that doesn’t distinguish muscle from fat — isn’t always an accurate measure of a person’s health, and that children’s organizations should do all they can to encourage exercise to fight obesity.
“Any organization can make their own rules, but as a pediatrician I feel like we should be promoting physical activity for everybody, be as inclusive as possible, and only exclude from activity if there’s a physical threat to their health,” said Dr. Jennifer Shu, a pediatrician, in an interview with CNN.
Other advocacy groups, such as the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance, argue that the ban on obese scouts’ participation in the activities propagates stigma about overweight people that is not helpful in fighting obesity and its health consequences.
Data has shown that fat stigma has consequences for obese Americans’ mental health, as well as on their medical care at large. For instance, doctors are less likely to provide optimal care for their obese patients, writing them off as beyond the scope of medical help. A study presented at the Meeting of the Society of General Internal Medicine in 1999 concluded that “fat-shaming” behaviors in medicine also discourage overweight people from seeking the sort of primary and preventative care that might help treat their conditions, alongside screenings for deadly diseases like cancer.
Although lifestyle choices do play a part in causing obesity, many Americans — and particularly children — somewhat inadvertently maintain an unhealthy diet because the food industry pumps large amounts of salt, sugar, and fat into common pre-packaged foods like bread and spaghetti sauce.