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Boy Scouts Weight Requirement Misses the Point

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Are the Boy Scouts lost without some group to exclude? They no longer ban gay boys from hiking and camping and scouts-honoring among the troops. But now there's a ban on fat kids and dads attending the 10-day national hiking and camping jamboree.

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Boys and troop leaders with a body mass index of 40 or higher have to slim down before qualifying for an invite to the annual get-together in Glen Jean, W. Va. The BMI requirement is in addition to a rigorous fitness test and health screening by a qualified medical professional.

In the past, scouts only needed a physical and to fill out a few forms before being considered. Not all scouts receive invites to the event, which includes hiking, biking, zip-lining and rock climbing around the 10,000 acre area, but explicitly excluded are boys and troop leaders with a 40+ BMI, which puts them into Obese Class III. Those in the 32.0-39.9 range need approval from the jamboree medical staff to attend but are not unequivocally excluded.

Boy Scouts of America says the new limits are because of the more intense nature of the jamboree this year. All activity will be on foot—cars and buses will no longer deliver the scouts and their packs to camps and activity sites. If that's the case, the requirement should be for boys and leaders to be able to hike 10,000 acres or carry however many pounds of stuff for however many miles. BMI shouldn't be make or break.

I'm sure a 263-pound teen and his doctor know whether he's up for a miles-long hike to camp.

So why the new qualifier? Have the Scouts been hosting too many fat boys that can't hack it in recent jamborees? Were too many obese scouts complaining about the rigor of the jamboree? Or is this BSA's way of tackling childhood obesity?

The thing is, body mass index is one of those numbers that is supposed to tell us about someone's health and level of fitness on a fine scale, but is really only informative when talking about populations. Fit and muscular individuals fall in the overweight and obese categories. Sedentary junk food eaters with excellent genes can fall into the normal—even underweight—class.

Why isn't the fitness test and health screening enough assurance that a particular scout—whatever the size—can handle 10 days in the wilds of West Virginia? If there can be special dispensation for the Obese Class II boys, why not allow for doctors' exceptions for all those deemed healthy and fit enough?

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Fat kids know they're fat. And unfit kids know they're unfit. I'm sure a 263-pound teen and his doctor know whether he's up for a miles-long hike to camp. BMI shouldn't matter.

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