The national Boy Scouts Jamboree — a ten-day camp-out starting this week — got noticeably more exclusive this year. As 30,000 youths descended upon West Virginia’s rugged terrain for the Jamboree on Monday, their peers with a body mass index (BMI) higher than 39 were barred from attending. Even those with a BMI of 32 or higher were required to submit health information and be individually cleared for participation.
This year’s Jamboree, which takes place in the New River Gorge region of West Virginia, is the most physically demanding since the inaugural Jamboree in 1937, which took place in Washington, D.C. 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.
The Boy Scouts published the health requirements two years in advance, and say that interested scouts had time to lose weight if needed. The Jamboree website prominently features a video explaining the requirements and showing viewers around the park, encouraging scouts to get their BMI measurements into a healthy range. A BMI of 40 or higher indicates morbid obesity; for example, a twelve-year-old boy of average height (around 4 feet 11 inches) would register just above a BMI of 40 if he weighed 200 pounds.
But the Council on Size and Weight Discrimination has a big problem with the rule: BMI measurements are not always accurate proxies for a person’s general health, they say. “There are boy scouts who are heavier than average but extremely fit and capable of strenuous physical activity. At the same time, it is patently absurd to assume that just because a boy is thin, that means he is capable of a three-mile hike up a mountain,” the council said in a statement.
Others have criticized the Boy Scouts for upholding a track record of discrimination. As one reader of the Journal Junction in Martinsburg, West Virgina commented: “So now the Boy Scouts of America won’t discriminate because of sexual orientation, but they are OK with discriminating against fat people … I guess we shouldn’t be surprised, as fat people are the last group you can still legally discriminate against.” The association recently emerged from controversy surrounding its long-standing ban on gay scouts, which was repealed two months ago.
There’s no clear estimate of the number of kids turned away, but Scout spokesman Deron Smith told ABC News that most obese kids just didn’t bother applying.