Will Boy Scout Policy Change, and Should It?

Summit Bechtel Reserve

(For the groundwork of this discussion, please see yesterday’s “Boy Scouts of America Say No to Flab”)

Shown on this page is the Summit Bechtel Reserve, site of the 2013 Boy Scout Jamboree. Robert S. Wieder of CalorieLab reported that the Boy Scouts of America drew up plans for the event based on consultation with “pediatric health professionals.” (in quotes only because the article does not specify how many or what kind). The bottom line for the Scouts is that a kid in what has been designated the “morbidly obese” range (100+ pounds overweight) has no business climbing up ropes and can’t fit into a kayak anyway. The administration believes that it is important to avoid exposing inept children and youth to “unacceptably real dangers.”

On the other hand, some would say, the law now requires mainstreaming disabled kids in public schools, so why can’t the Boy Scouts mainstream all its members at this monumental event that only takes place every four years? But Wieder contends:

That means offering activities on several levels of physical challenge and difficulty, which means you are still confronted with exclusivity, with the overweight being unqualified to participate fully. The fat kids would still be singled out, still be susceptible to unkind comments.

Weider suggests that an attempt at compassion, such as theme-park style sorting of customers specific to the activity, could be even more hurtful and damaging to their psyches. He ponders:

The question is, is it better to admit morbidly obese Scouts to the Jamboree and then proceed to bar them from one exciting activity after another? I suspect the BSA execs felt it was simpler and safer to execute the wholesale ban than to have staffers and Scout leaders make judgment calls Scout by Scout and event by event.

But what if it didn’t have to be that way? What if the morbidly and otherwise unacceptably obese had their own section of the camp, where constant rejection would not be an issue? With all that space to spread out in, and all those good intentions, couldn’t the BSA rope off a special area of the Jamboree with activities that would benefit the most out-of-shape kids?

What if there was a merit badge for addiction recovery? What if one area of the grounds were set aside to teach identification of problem foods and how to withdraw from them and graduate into abstinence? Stress management? Coping skills for handling negative emotions? How to find and choose a good residential 12-step program?

On the Other Hand

An opposing point of view suggests that physical segregation could be seen as the ultimate in fat-shaming. In the unlikely event that the BSA would actually create such a facility, people would complain about that, too. Another objection would apply whether the obese were mainstreamed, separated, or entirely excluded: liability. The BSA is said to be worried about lawsuits, but that’s always a factor. It seems that for this event to exist at all, a certain amount of “waivering” must be in place. Otherwise, it would be all too easy for just a few unscrupulous con artists to bankrupt the Boy Scouts.

Here’s the Kicker

Despite the ban on kids and leaders and volunteers classified as morbidly obese, and despite the diligent evaluation of borderline cases, it seems that plenty of adiposity could still be found at the Jamboree. This discouraging report was published by David Coleman, an adult Committee Member whose own Troop 56 had trained for three months to get in shape:

At the Summit, we estimated we hiked approximately 35 miles in six days as well as participated in ten physical events such as skate boarding, BMX biking, mountain biking, white water rafting, rock climbing, demanding high-ropes courses and a trail clearing service project…Unfortunately, I observed countless other scouts and entire troops of obese kids who were at the base who could not enjoy the events because of their poor physical fitness.

Still, the methodology of excluding the most obese kids from even applying to go to the event did cause what Wieder called a “media uproar.” The attention was broad, but short-lived; the proverbial tempest in a teapot. The gigantic Jamboree only happens once every four years, so it will be interesting to see if the BSA handles this issue differently next time.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “The Media Uproar Over the Boy Scout Jamboree Obesity Ban,” CalorieLab.com, 07/23/13
Source: “Personal Fitness and Scouting,” Weebly.com, 8/21/2014
Image by Lisa Strader


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