What Fat Women Want

Wanting to be thin is only part of the story

"No White Water BMI Restrictions for Jamboree Participants"

The Boy Scouts of America are gathering in Virginia for some adventures of a lifetime, the Jamboree. Among the 37,000 attendees will be no one with a BMI of over 40 (about a hundred pounds overweight), and those with a BMI between 32 and 39.9 will have had to submit medical proof of their fitness. Never has BMI been so classically displayed for its arbitrariness. Read More

The Gold Award is not "Whatever"

There are many girls who earn the Gold Award, the highest award a Girl Scout can earn. The award is earned at the Senior level. At the Cadette level, there is the Silver Award. At the Junior level, there is the Bronze Award. Earning the Gold Award earned me my first promotion in the United States Armed Forces, and for many others in the civilian sector, it is a way to make their resumes stand out. The Gold Award is indicative of a degree of personal focus and drive that many are now trying to induce in teenagers (via mandatory community service projects and the like).

The Girl Scouts may not get the same amount of publicity as the Boy Scouts, but our accomplishments are just as meaningful (if not more so due to the obvious lack of community support). We should not be dismissed with "whatever."

There is the problem of safety and rescue

As an avid outdoorsperson I've been trained in wilderness safety. When one leads a group where they will be in a remote area away from modern conveniences and easy transport one must always consider the fitness of every person in the group.

If one isn't prepared or physically fit to be able to complete the fitness event, leaders are advised to gently suggest a participant take their leave. If something goes wrong in the wilderness, rescues become expensive, time-consuming and dangerous. Not only is the victim's safety compromised when a rescue is required but the mere act of the rescue compromises the safety of everybody else in the group as well as the rescue team.

The Boyscout's policy may be very necessary. It may not be fair and it may result in somebody's feelings being hurt, but it also might be a quick and easy approach to keeping as many participants safe as possible. I'd rather have somebody who isn't fit enough to have hurt feelings than several dead or injured boyscouts and leaders because somebody lost their balance, fell over a cliff and the S&R Team activated. BTW, those S&R teams are often comprised of local volunteers who have to leave their jobs and their families to perform dangerous missions because somebody decided to bite off more than they could chew without a thought to who they would impact with their decision.

New River Gorge can be a very dangerous place, people die there just about every year. And, FYI, it's in West Virginia, not Virginia.

And one more thing

New River Gorge isn't a school, a playground or an adult supervised rumpus room.

If a group is planning to backpack 5 miles to a campsite there may not be another place to group camp along the way, it's very steep there, take a look at the cartography. If one hiker can't make it to the specified campsite then everybody in the group is in trouble. It means that the group will have to split up, somebody else is going to have to carry the slow hiker's pack, and dangerous alternate arrangements are going to have to be made in the spur of the moment. Another problem is your cell phone will not work in central West Virginia. It will work everywhere else, but many mountainous regions of West Virginia have no cell signal. So there will be no way to call for help.

The New River Gorge has class 3-5 rapids. There is no lake. There may not be a lot of swimming or canoeing either. The Jamboree Boy Scout program may not have the option of scaling back activities, there may not be a safe way out of an activity once it is started. And with boys, if one is going to try to climb a mountain then the rest of them will do it too, without anyone thinking they are too fat or out of shape. The physical-readiness problem won't become apparent until a scout is in a dangerous location or has a medical event.

Disabled Scouts allowed & BMI doesn't apply to visitors

The Scouts were aware that a certain percentage of youth and approximately 77% of the adult applicants from the 2010 Jambo were overweight to morbidly obese, yet they spent 300 to 400 million designing a Jambo location which was specifically spread out to require extra miles of walking each day.

I can't say that I understand why a high adventure location would need to build in extra walking, as the teens and adults probably get enough exercise by participating in the activities. Previous Jambos had problems with heat exhaustion, but rather than design the site to work for the majority of their volunteers (the parents who often use vacation time volunteering with the Scouts)and heavier Scouts, they chose to exclude them and/or make the event more difficult for those between 30 and 40 BMI.

The average parent volunteer is probably between 35 and 50 - why make the trip any harder for them than necessary? I realize the boys should be the focus of the Jambo, but they can't go if their adult leaders don't take them. And, I suspect some Scout leaders may have decided not to take their Troop if they suspected they couldn't make the BMI cut.

Based on what I've read, the Scout location has 12 cell towers and a number of charging stations for various electronics/phones, as this one is the first which encourages use of such devices. They also have a number of doctors volunteering and various medical tents set up.

One article I read said they had seen approximately 400 Scouts for injuries (from broken bones to heat exhaustion - perhaps from all the extra walking in the blazing heat/sun and the extreme BMX/mountain biking and skate-boarding activities). They've even sent some injured Scouts to off-site hospitals.

The Scouts did allow disabled Scouts to attend and made sure they could participate to the extent they were able (which is a good thing), so it's difficult to argue the location is as remote as other wilderness areas (there are over 40,000 people there, obviously access roads exist). Oh, and the BMI exclusion does not apply to visitors. Visitors (parents and others) may purchase passes and take buses to the summit area, where they are allowed to spend the day and sample the activities (think the summit has scaled down versions of the high adventure activities, but I'm not entirely sure on that point).

I can understand the Scouts' desire to promote a healthy lifestyle, but think they need to look at themselves and decide if an organization which raises money by selling chocolate and caramel covered popcorn can really pretend that they're concerned about the obesity epidemic. It's understandable that certain high adventure activities may need restrictions for participation, yet it seems overly harsh to purposely design a Jambo location to exclude a known segment of their youth and adult members.

I can't help but wonder if there was another way to address the heat exhaustion concerns. Additionally, in light of those concerns, I also can't help but wonder why they purposely spread out the site to require Scouts to walk more in the intense heat. Fitness is a great goal, but Jambo is only 10 days every 3 years, so any fitness benefit from the excess walking seems minimal versus the risks of exhaustion.

I hope some fitness, heat stroke, medical and weight management experts work with the Scouts to see if they can reach their goals in a less exclusionary manner. The Scouts hope to expand their membership, and in the long run, I'm not sure if the current Jambo restrictions will help them do that.

Just to clarify ...

By "between 35 and 50," is intended to refer to the age of the volunteer parents (believe the Scouts at Jambo need to at least be 12 and that many are 14 to 15-years old). Those parents involved with professions which are outdoors/require a certain level of physical fitness may do fine at the event regardless of their age, but the average middle-aged office worker or professional may find the event rather taxing - it's difficult to go from air conditioned environments to being outdoors 27/7, especially while adding in miles of walking each day.

Link to summit map

Here's a link to the summit map - it has food, retail, restrooms, a stadium and medical locations along with what appear to be access roads.


Video on Disabled Scout Program

Oh, and here's a video on their program for disabled Scouts:


Eagle Scout

Is Eagle Scout really that much of a distinction anymore? Sure they stuck with the program for all those years, but the Boy Scouts were always the weird kids at school.


Barrett's comment is hurtful to this proud boy scout mom! Are my boys weird? Well, if doing volunteer work on Saturday instead of vegging out in front of video games and speaking respectfully to people is "weird," then, yeah, I guess they ARE weird!

My boys work really hard in scouting, learning a wide variety of life skills with a heavy emphasis on service to others and the community.

The high adventure camps are intense, and not for everyone. ALL the boys (not just heavy boys) have to have a physical and a doctor's clearance to participate in these events. On a recent canoe trip, some boys who were too skinny couldn't attend (they weren't heavy enough to manage the canoes in difficult conditions).

These restrictions are in place for scouts' safety.

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Frances Kuffel is the author of Passing for Thin: Losing Half My Weight and Finding My Self.


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