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:
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! www.fitfatties.com
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