Boy Scouts Discriminate Against Fat Kids

The Boy Scouts of America have decided to discriminate against Scouts based on BMI.  If your BMI is deemed too high, you aren’t allowed to participate in their Jamboree because they assume you’re not physically fit enough.  The policy is seriously screwed up and not, in any way, based in evidence, science, or logic.

First their explanation of why to use BMI as a screening tool:

The CDC suggests using a body mass index as a screening tool for obesity; it is easy and only requires knowing your height and weight. The BMI is a governmental calculation based on nationwide statistics that take into account variables that include geography, age, and sex.

It’s easy – if you know someone’s height and weight then you know exactly how physically fit they are.  Wait – no, you really don’t – all you know is their height and weight which are not the same as health or physical fitness.  Also – it is a governmental calculation?  Shouldn’t we be using something that we can at least pretend is a medical calculation? As the brilliant Jon Robison said at a talk I was at, it’s not that BMI is a poor indicator of health, it’s that BMI is not an indicator of health.   If they are using the exact same BMI ranges for scouts of all ages and adult staff and from all over the country, how is it possible that it takes into account age and geography?

So here’s the policy:

The Jamboree Medical Staff will review all applicants with a BMI of 32.0–39.9 and consider jamboree participation based on  1) health history, 2) submitted health data, and 3) recommendation of the applicant’s personal health care provider. For applicants with a BMI >31.9, a recommendation of “no contraindications for participation” by the applicant’s personal health care provider does not necessarily guarantee full jamboree participation. The jamboree medical staff will have final determination of full jamboree participation.

The national jamboree cannot accept for participation any applicant with a BMI of 40.0 or higher. (emphasis theirs)

Why are they doing this?

Anyone who is obese and has multiple risk factors for cardiovascular/cardiopulmonary disease would be at much greater risk of an acute cardiovascular/cardiopulmonary event imposed on them by the environmental stresses of the Summit. Our goal is to prevent any serious health-related event from occurring, and ensuring that all of our participants and staff are “physically strong.”

So based on a ratio of weight and height the Boy Scouts can tell if an applicant is “physically strong.”  and if they have multiple risk factors for cardiovascular/cardiopulmonary disease.  My BMI is 48.7 so thank god I have the Boy Scouts to tell me that I dropped dead of a heart attack in my dance rehearsal this morning. Come to think of it, maybe I should ask the Boy Scouts if blogging is too strenuous for me?  At 48.7 it sounds like they think I should just lie down.

Note that there is no action to be taken for underweight applicants, even though eating disorders among boys and men are increasing – if they’re going to make sweeping generalizations about health and physical fitness based on weight and height, shouldn’t they at least do it across the board?  Never mind that BMI doesn’t take muscle mass into account, so using it as a measure of “physical strength” seems questionable. Never mind the mountain of evidence that shows that fitness is a much better determinant of health risks than body size.  Never mind that:

BMI Graphic Final





I seriously hope that a scout who lives in a city or state that prohibits weight-based discrimination is able to sue, or that fat scouts get some activism together.  This is so, so wrong.  This is why, though I am adamant that nobody is obligated to pursue fitness in any way, I think it’s important for fat athletes to tell our stories, so that fat little Boy Scouts and fat adult Scout leaders who want to go on hikes or be athletic aren’t discouraged by the bigotry that they face in an organization that’s supposed to empower them.

If you’re interested in talking about fitness without weight loss talk or weight stigma, or checking out awesome pictures and videos of fat athletes, you can always check out the Fit Fatties Forum – it’s a place for people of all sizes, shapes and abilities to talk about fitness from a weight-neutral perspective, it’s totally free to join!

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58 thoughts on “Boy Scouts Discriminate Against Fat Kids

  1. You’d hope if the jamboree is as physically demanding and potentially dangerous as they say, that they’d be conducting fitness tests for all participants, including the skinny ones. It seems strange to single out body size when it looks like what they’re actually worried about is the potential for one of the accompanying adults to have a heart attack.

    1. That’s what I’m sayin’, I hope they don’t kill a thin person or someone whose BMI is under 31.9 who has hypertension, diabetes, high cholesterol, smokes, has sleep apnea, has had a heart attack, or has COPD . . .

  2. I thought that Scouting was one of the few settings where nobody was allowed to pick on the fat kids.

    Damn it.

    BMI is so stupid! I know somebody in the Coast Guard who is very tall and very strong, so tall and so strong that his BMI is “unhealthy” even though he has very little stored fat. Some Coasties in his situation were able to get exemptions, at least temporarily, because “everybody knew” that they were bodybuilders, therefore they “must” be healthy. This guy, though, was just very fit. Captain America body double fit. Until he forced himself to stop eating and stop exercising in order to lose muscle mass in order to satisfy the BMI requirement. Because being fit enough to heave big machine parts around meant nothing compared to the infallible BMI.

    Just stupid.

  3. I hate this policy my nephew is a boy scout but like everyone in my family he’s got a higher BMI. He is on track to become one of the youngest Eagle Scouts in the state but not being aloud to participate in Jamboree would or could derail him.

    I think this call may have something to do with insurance and mitigating the risk of being sued. Like all sports organizations in Texas limiting participation to ages 5 and up. Even though research shows kids a young a 3 have the capacity to participate in an organized sport and have better muscle memory. So some insurance goon or lawyer got a bright idea ir the scouts have already had a problem been used ir hab insurance coverage rates jacked up for not having a BMI policy.

    I have noticed a trend that insurance companies and there rate manipulation is behind a lot of these new discriminatory polices.

    1. Participating in the National Boy Scout Jamboree is not a requirement for the rank of Eagle Scout. Going or not going shouldn’t derail him being the youngest Eagle Scout in the state. Is he 11 or 12? The youngest I know of is 13.

  4. I’ve been “fighting from within” the Boy Scouts for the last couple of years – once my son became old enough to participate and wanted to do it. I have been fighting about their policies on gay leaders, scouts, etc – and even though I haven’t been able to effect the biggest change I’ve wanted, I felt like we’re getting somewhere.

    This tho – I’m screwed. I’m a fat lady, my son is a fat kid – we’re scheduled to go to our local cub scout camp and guess what – we’re not allowed to participate in some activities because of our BMI. Well guess what? I’m not going. And that means that all the kids that are signed up and counting on me – well they’re screwed too. I let all the other skinny adults that they’re welcome to take the skinny kids and have a great time, but count this fat lady out and I’m not singing. I’m done with Scouts. My son liked the camaraderie he got with other boys as he’s not really into sports and we have no kids on our street to play with.

    The local rep suggested I go on a diet to get my BMI down. Once again, screw Boy Scouts.

    1. This happened at your local level, as well as at the Jamboree? Is the Jamboree national? I cannot believe someone told you to diet, to get your BMI down, so you could participate in a Boy Scout camp. Yowza!

      Can I ask what activities you couldn’t participate in?

      1. I was told we’d not be able to participate in the more “strenuous” activities such as the long distance hike and the rope climbing. My son was entering his second years of Webelos and because of our health records, we’d have to skip those and do something else.

          1. I can’t speak for Steff, but as a long-time Girl Scout leader, we had basic health info from our scouts whenever we went on a field trip, camping, etc. However, it was a pretty basic form that included allergies, any health disorders/precautions we needed to take, Dr.’s names, etc. I’m pretty certain we didn’t ask for weight and height.

          2. They have a form that we have to have filled out by our Doctor. Which has all sorts of things on it, including our BMI, shot records, etc, etc.

            Health records was probably to broad of a term, my apologies.

    2. I just had a terrible, horrible suspicion; I hope I’m totally off base. What if the local reps use this policy to try to get rid of ‘troublemakers’? I’m sure that a lot of the parents who disagreed with the boy scouts’ policies have already abandoned ship, but there are going to be parents like you who stayed and agitated for change. Statistically, 35% or more of those parents will be obese; 70% will be overweight. I’m sure that the scouts can’t afford to lose more than a third of their parent volunteers, but they could apply this new policy selectively and have a socially acceptable excuse to get rid of dissenters.

  5. Keep the fatties at home, where they belong. Keep them out of the public eye so we don’t have to see how big they are. We only want the lean, straight, Christian ones out and about. Gods forbid there should be diversity and that someone needs a little more space on the log around the campfire.

    My hubby’s a den leader. We’ve got a kid in a wheelchair in our pack. Guess we should leave him home too because hey, he can’t run or go on hikes. How would HE qualify for activities since he can’t walk and might fall out of his wheelchair? We’ve got kids with other disabilities that severely limit mobility. But hey, they’re thin, so that’s all that matters.

    A Jamboree isn’t a 20 mile hike through the demilitarized zone. It’s a giant rally with all sorts of activities, from archery to zip lining to rafting, to crafts and technology. You’re not required to participate in everything…it’s self-pacing.

    So the fat kids can’t be physically active because they’re fat? Really, BSA?

    Once hubby serves out his sentence as Den leader (he hates it…did it because no one else wanted to), I’m pulling my son out. He’s bored, and we had to defend our religious choice because it’s “non-standard” (we’re Unitarian Universalists).

    So, so sick of expecting people to fit into charts.

    1. When my brother the extremely burly Eagle Scout did Jamboree, it was the sort of thing you described. He did a lot of different thing, some of which were physical, some of which weren’t. Funnily enough, back in the seventies, nobody seemed to ask him if he was Christian or participated in organized religion, and he got his Eagle without ever darkening the door of a church of any sort.

      My father’s Scout troop was full of the boys other troops didn’t want. He never had a kid in a wheelchair, but he had ones with learning disorders, non-standard family organization, serious co-ordination issues, emotional problems… you name it. They may not have been the poster children the BSA wanted, but I think they were the kids who got the most out of Scouting.

      Maybe what we need is a new organization that does a lot of the same stuff Boy Scouts do, but is more concerned with giving kids self-confidence and useful life skills than promoting a single vision of Aryan Youth.

      1. EXACTLY. Scouting is supposed to give confidence (and quite frankly, I’m jealous those kids know how to tie knots, build a campfire, and use a knife, and I don’t). We also have kids with icky home situations and kids with ADD/ADHD, and loads of other things. The pack meetings are chaos sometimes, but the kids do a lot of service activities and learn what’s it’s like to give something back to their community. And they’re supposed to have something they did themselves that is a source of pride.

        The bottom line–however appalling–is that the BSA is a private organisation, and they can do whatever they want. With the recent vote, they lost A LOT of monetary support, and it would seem to me that if they’re pinched for funds, they should be a bit more careful about hanging onto the numbers they’ve got instead of excluding even more people.

        But then again, perhaps I’m being too logical…

        1. A group of my friends and I (former Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts and BSA Venturers/Sea Scouts) have recently realized that in Europe, most of the scouting organizations are run by former scouts-the parents aren’t involved at all.

          On a lot of levels, this seems like an excellent way to do it-then they’re disassociated from the influence of their parents, (not to mention that the parents get some free time) and the former scouts know what worked and didn’t work for them.

          We’ve been debating trying to start some sort of pseudo-scouting group, but don’t know who in this day and age would trust a mess of kids to a group of almost-30somethings without their own kids (even though we’ve got an EMT, a firefighter, and two teachers in the group!)

          1. Ugh, Just Ugh. My BF is big in scouting and it has been great to her kids, but never was my thing. this is just wrong.

            Has anyone checked out Maker Scouts?

            I have a friend who is teaching pyrotechnics there.
            I guess I should look into what I might do, even as a child free person. Anything that’s not BSA or GSA is looking good.

      2. Your father’s scout troop reminded me of Addams Family Values, where Wenesday led the outcast kids in the camp, in getting revenge on everyone in the camp.

        1. That’s just what they were like, right down to the subversive mayhem. Okay, they never lashed the councilors to a spit and roasted them, but there was that time my brother led the troop in building a working catapult and laid siege to the mess hall with sacks of flour and water balloons.

          When the director of the camp sent a representative out to deal with the situation, he demanded to know where the leader of the troop was. One boy pointed to my father who was, at the time, helping to keep the legs of the catapult steady and yelled: “Right there! He’s one of us!”

          The camp director, incidentally, refused to come out from under his desk until the catapult had been reduced to the random bits of wood from whence it was created, and all the flour had been cleaned up. He thought he was punishing the troop when he demanded they clean up after themselves… forgetting that this was the troop that sang for KP duty every night and did it cheerfully, still singing, to poke fun at the troops who worked so hard to get ‘honor table.’

          To this day, the catapult is one of my brother’s favorite memories of scouting.

    2. Totally agree with the other comments in this thread.

      I guess that means there are no Jewish kids in Scouts either?

  6. Seems like they will have trouble getting enough adult volunteers that fit the BMI range. In our experience the troop didn’t have a huge surplus of volunteers that would let them add this barrier and still have enough.

  7. Any bad press for the boy scouts is great, and I have thought this over more times than they deserve. My son is 11, and because of religious issues (we are atheists, and that is truly intolerable for them) neither my husband nor my son can join in with all the activities and “fun” my kid has had to watch on the sidelines from.

    Now to know about this! Beyond indignation, we can all just sit back and watch another piece of bad-history die. None of us misses seperate water fountains and those travestys…this is similiar.

  8. Well, it’s hardly surprising to me, given the history of the Boy Scouts and discrimination, be that against gay or atheist members (or leaders). It’s just one more reason for me to not support them when they do their popcorn sales (not to mention that once, before I knew they were governed by bigots, i bought the popcorn and it kind of sucked).

    It’s really sad to me, and you are so right that thin Scouts should be expected to undergo the same exact stringent testing. What about conditions like hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, which is the leading cause of heart-related deaths in young people, and which has gotten SOME media attention because of the unfortunate tendency it has to strike young, seemingly healthy, athletes?

    Then there’s the fact that anorexia puts tremendous strain on the heart, and so as you mentioned, underweight Scouts could just be naturally underweight, or perhaps they have eating disorders, and so they should also be subjected to the tests.

    Bottom line, if it’s that strenuous the same level of in-depth testing should apply to EVERY participant. Saying “oh, his BMI is okay and the doctor signed off” is NOT sufficient if they’re so concerned about possible cardiac issues.

  9. I’ve been banning boy scouts since before all the cool kids did. None of my boys were scouts because of their anti-gay policy which has been in effect a lot longer than the recent protests indicate. They have yet to do anything to make me regret my choice to not have scouts…

    1. Same here. I didn’t want my son anywhere near these Fascist creeps. He grew up just fine, and actually has the attributes BoA insists they are instilling in their scouts but can’t seem to exhibit themselves.

  10. WTF I thought scouting was supposed to be useful for everyone. Even if BMI determined health this doesn’t make sense- is scouting not useful for unhealthy people? Do you have to be healthy to be a good scout? What a bunch of crap.

    I think that the scouts are just a bunch of bigoted weirdos, and so their hate just got re-directed when they decided to let gay kids stay in. Like a pathetic bully they need to be holding someone down all the time, I guess. Lord knows fat kids don’t get picked on enough, right?

    1. Maybe they think the fat kids are also the gay kids and this will get rid of them.

      I wouldn’t put it past them to come up with an idea as asinine as that.

  11. under duress, they were forced to abolish their prejudice against one group—so they found another, more presently acceptable group to hate.

    unbelievable. it is time for all thinking people not only to remove themselves from boy scouting, but to create an alternate organization that accepts everybody, no matter who & no matter what.

    1. I already know that if I have any sons, they will not be allowed to participate in boy scouts, under any circumstances, and my husband agrees with me.

  12. Oh, and to show just how into health they are, they’re rewarding those who finish a 3-mile walk with a barbecue.

    This isn’t about health. This is about using ostracism as a way to bully and punish.

    1. Well, we can’t really expect them to go, what, two whole months without discriminating against anyone or bullying kids, can we? That would just be unreasonable.

  13. I put a link up too, funny I just read the comment about cardiomyopathy, as I linked to that too! What I find odd, and most offensive is the video. The gentleman says the “easiest” thing to do would be for the kids to just lose weight to prepare. Talks about how he is well on his way to getting his BMI below 32… Sigh. He seems pretty fit, walking all the trails etc, with a BMI above 32. Misguided and malicious, and hey kids, get active to be skinny, but if you’re not skinny we won’t let you be active… Sad.

  14. This absolutely doesn’t make any sense whatsoever. Even IF having a high BMI meant you are physically unfit (and of course it doesn’t), who’s to say that everyone who has a ‘healthy’ BMI is fit? I happen to have one and I’m notoriously unfit.

  15. Hi. This isnt really to do with the above post; I just wanted to say how amazing and informative I have found your blog. I only recently discovered the FA world (about 3 weeks ago) and it has been incredibly eye opening. I am a doctor in SA and I have “weight issues” myself..according to the good old BMI measurement im obese. And to be perfectly honest I had never read any of the evidence you have on here about diets and HAES..its definitely not what they teach at med school (tho in SA, at least in the government hospitals, weight issues arent focused on much..we spend a lot more time focussing on our HIV epidemic) so it has been tremendously informative and has at least started to change my own views on things. I too have dieted, lost weight and put it all back on and more. I wish fervently that I could lose it and keep it off for purely aesthetic reasons (theres a guy im really in to and I think he would be into me if I was thinner) it sounds shallow and I guess it is but no guy has ever told me im beautiful so you start believing that after a while..anyway im waffling now. I just wanted to commend you and thank you for the excellent work:)

    1. And wow having read my comment again I just sound like a boy obsessed school girl or something. What I was trying to convey is im not quite at the self acceptance part yet but this community has been somewhat revolutionary for me because I never even considered that a possibility before. So thanks again

    2. I am so glad you’re here, too! It took me a long time to get to even a modicum of self-acceptance. I’ve been reading Ragen’s blog for a year and a half now and still find myself wanting to lose weight, not the least of which reason is to get a guy. Except. Except I know that if he wouldn’t want me fat, then he wouldn’t be the right guy for me thin, either. Any relationship that’s based on how I look is probably not going to stand the long haul. So, I keep reminding myself of that and the more I remind myself, the more it takes root.

      I’m so glad that you’re a doctor who’s learning this. 🙂 YAY!!!

  16. We seem to be in a social cycle of hatred and prejudice. I’m sort of scared. I know that I live in a liberal area, but I have friends that don’t and I worry about them. I don’t like finding out ordinary people are getting hurt because of this. It isn’t just BSA (although they’ve been around a long time), it’s a lot of people all over. Maybe it’s just that more of the bad stuff is being widely reported and that will help with change. Anyway, I’ll keep doing the bits I can when I can.

  17. Did anyone else read on the link Ragen gave that you can’t be obese but you can smoke in areas that are set up for smokers as long as you are un-uniformed, a visiter or off-duty?

    That is really fucked up.

    1. It does fit in with the currently prevailing message, that if you’re thin you must be healthy, regardless of any unhealthy habits you may have.

  18. Clearly it’s time to boycott Boy Scouts of America and simultaneously provide an alternative program for ALL boys, regardless of size, health, sexuality, etc. The BSA has clearly fallen under the control of a bunch of creeps we would not want our children or any children we cherish to be associated with or under the influence of. Yuck.

    1. One of the problems with boycotting BSA is this: many of us have been boycotting them for years because of their homophobia. I think we might join the two issues — homophobia and fatphobia — and in arguing against both forms of oppressive ignorance (and I understand they’re being some kind of Christian evangelists, too) do some pretty hard hitting intersectional analysis. And in the meantime, are there any alternatives to BSA? I mean are there any other organizations of groups of boys in which the boys will learn comparable skills and habits? Alternatives that are neither homophobic nor fatophobic nor evangelical?l

  19. Of course they don’t care about eating disorders. Since calorie micro-managing and excessive exercise is called healthy now, not Anorexia. Meanwhile the U.K. sees children starving themselves from fear of becoming fat as a problem, and the US keeps telling kids that self-starvation is a healthy habit.

  20. I was quite unprepared for my own emotional response to this. I cried and cried. Anti-fat bigotry is at its most pernicious when it makes children sad. I was a pretty good kid, I’d like to think. More than fifty years later i’m still hurting. The drumbeat of condemnation goes on, and new generations of fat kids are crying.

  21. Yet another reason not to let my son join BSA. It’s sad, that organization seems to be cut from a very different cloth than Girl Scouts, which is inclusive and empowering.

    I’m happy to see BSA is getting slammed on social media over this.

  22. I’ve blogged about the issue here:

    In it, I have many more details about the weight limits and I condemn it strongly. I note how it has impacted (and may continue to impact) my own children, and share my GREAT frustration with the policy.

    Yep, these new weight limits and some of the other policies of Scouts are really testing my patience. But in light of the other comments, I want to stand up for the majority of what the organization does.

    Scouting overall is really an OUTSTANDING organization. Having seen both my boys go through it for years, I really believe they have benefited strongly from it. In particular, it develops leadership capacity like few others programs do.

    I do not agree with some of Scout policies but we have chosen to fight that from the inside. The bones of the organization are really good and deserve to be preserved. Its mission is very much worthwhile, but it just needs to be brought into the modern era.

    There ARE other good organizations out there, and by all means explore them if you want an alternative. I certainly won’t condemn anyone who opts for a different group. But Scouts itself is still a worthwhile organization, IMO. I will definitely keep my boys in Scouts, although I will work to change the parts about Scouts I don’t agree with.

    And that includes these stupid weight limits.

  23. Sorry for the late response to this…I’ve been traveling and didn’t hear about any of this until recently. It is so disheartening that just when the scouts have the sanity to stop the discrimination against gays in their in organization that have to maintain the homeostasis of having an outcast/scapegoat/bully and that “job opening” went to fat kids.

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