Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Boy Scouts Discriminate Against Obese Children

Photo courtesey of
There are times when I feel like I'm living in a make believe world.  I hear some stories in the news and I think this must be from The Onion; the story is so absurd that it must be fake.  Today was exactly one of those days because I saw a story that the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) was not going to allow Boy Scouts whose BMI was greater than 40 to attend their annual Jamboree.  In addition to that, children with a BMI between 32 and 39 had to submit medical information beforehand to be cleared to attend.   Part of the reason for this harsh rule was explained in the article:
The quadrennial pow-wow’s activities range from mountain biking and rock climbing to scuba diving and a water obstacle course — all strenuous exercises that require physical fitness, Dan McCarthy, director of the BSA’s Summit Group, told the Associated Press. Because there are no vehicles on site, the participants are required to walk everywhere, often on hilly or mountainous terrain.
In all honesty I'm almost at a loss for words for how shocked and appalled I am at this news.  I'm sure we've all heard news that the Boy Scouts are known for their previous discrimination of homosexuals, preventing openly gay scout leaders from joining their organization.  They recently changed that policy but they've decided to change their focus now to "fat kids." The spokesperson for the BSA tried to justify this new policy by saying that Scouts were made aware of the weight rule a year in advance and that troops developed health-related programs to help Scouts lose weight.  Health-related programs are great but we don't need any focus on weight.

BMI is not the only indicator for health and some would argue that it's not even a very good tool to use in the first place.  So why are the Scouts allowed to do this?  Well in short, discriminating against heavy people is probably the last form of discrimination that is socially acceptable and it's even more prevalent than we may think.  One common example is when companies have higher health care premiums for the obese employees.

So let's play this BSA scenario out a little.  Let's say Scout X has a BMI of 42 at the start of last year and he starts to try to lose weight.  He loses some weight by joining the Troops healthy living program and as the deadline approaches, Scout X's BMI is now 40.2.  With the deadline just days away, what does the boy do?  Does he try to sweat out those last pounds by working out extra hard, does he think about restricting his food intake for just a few days.  Maybe he goes to an extreme and takes a diet pill that he saw advertised on TV?  Are these behaviors healthy?  Are these the skills that we want our children to develop in the Scouts?  I don't want my son to ever have to resort to this behavior.  I fear that this might lead to an unhealthy relationship with food, a bad body image and a lifetime of dieting.

I'm sure that the Scouts that are not going to this year's Jamboree because of their weight are disappointed but I'm also guessing that they feel incredibly ashamed.  How will this shame lead to improved healthy behaviors?  Will someone who is ashamed feel more inclined to go for a walk and choose healthy foods?  Or will that person isolate themselves, maybe feel depressed, maybe begin to eat more?  Where is the support system for these kids?  As the rest of their troop returns, how will these Scouts be treated?

The saddest part of this story to me is the fact that I've not heard a lot of public outrage over it.  Take this Fox News online poll that was started as the story broke.  With a total of 9000+ votes recorded 35% agreed that they Boy Scouts are allowed to ban obese kids from attending the Jamboree and 48% thought it was discrimination.  18% were undecided.  Seriously, 35% agree?! Wait 18% are undecided?!  You must be kidding me.

Hopefully this policy will soon change and we will stop fat-shaming our children, our friends, our family, our co-workers. Hopefully we will begin changing our attitudes toward obesity and focus more on healthy behaviors and not the number on the scale or what our BMI is.  Hopefully, we will change our attitudes about fat the same way we are changing our attitudes towards minorities.


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