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Boy Scouts Take Your Weight Seriously

The Boy Scouts of America is watching your weight. And if you're on the obese end of the BMI scale, you'd better plan to bow out of certain activities. Because starting in January, you won't be welcome on some of the scouts' more rigorous adventures.

The new health form for both scouts and scout leaders bases physical fitness to participate in high-adventure activities on a standard height/weight BMI chart. Children and volunteers who don't meet the weight allowances for their height will not be allowed to attend "travels that take you more than 30 minutes off an accessible roadway, fire lane, camp road, etc., where you float, walk, hike, bike, or otherwise go into the backcountry." While this had always been the rule for "the scouts' national high-adventure" camps such as Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico where troops and volunteers can hike 50 miles, Florida Sea Base and and Northern Tier, it now becomes the standard for local high-adventure camps that take scouters more than 30 minutes away from medical care.

Joshua Godinez, who administers the Web site, supports the new policy but notes that it raises some questions.

"I think making sure that people who are out of shape not going on high adventure is good. I’ve already taken myself out of doing an outing that my son is going on because I’m not in shape to do it. I also don’t have the issue of other scouters that they are fit but not within BMI standards of being allowed to participate."

Godinez's site has been the hot spot for conversation about the policy. While Godinez expected volunteers to be about evenly split in support and against the policy, he's seen a shift of non-support since ABC News ran a report about it.

The issue for many volunteers is that the BMI scale is not a true predictor of fitness. Following the new Boy Scout health form, a 6-foot-tall man must weigh no more than 239 pounds to participate in activities. Previously, volunteers who wanted to participate in high-adventure activities had to get a health clearance by a doctor.

"Just about everyone knows leaders outside the chart who have successfully done 15-20 mile hikes," Godinez says The question now is whether these leaders who weigh too much by BMI standards but have proven their fitness will be excluded." Godinez says that the issue of the BMI standards for youth hasn't been raised because it affects far more adult volunteers, particularly leaders in their 40's, 50's and 60's, than it does boys.

The Boy Scouts of America spokesman, Deron Smith, says that the new rules were created for the health and safety of everyone involved with the Boy Scouts. And they don't affect most scout activities, Smith says, noting that they are only meant to apply to highly rigorous trips.

"We are aware that there is a very small percent of the population who would not meet these requirements because of a higher than normal muscle mass," Smith notes. "For that very small percentage of people the [Boy Scouts of America] health and safety support committee is considering an alternative measure."

What do you think of this move by the Boy Scouts? Do you think organizations should block potential parent participation based on weight?

By Stacey Garfinkle |  May 15, 2009; 8:15 AM ET  | Category:  Newsmakers
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I think a person who is obese and really out of shape would want to avoid truly rigorous outdoor trips. A person who is not fit enough (regardless or weight) for a lenghy hike over rough trail can and will hold back the group. I really don't have a problem with the Boy Scouts asking them to not participate.
For the record, I would be unable to particiapte. I am a girl scout leader and love the outdoors, but I am also realistic about my fitness level. Maybe the rule will be motivating for those who really want to participate on those types of trips.

Posted by: thosewilsongirls | May 15, 2009 8:34 AM | Report abuse

i don't think kids are self-aware enough to make a smart decision (i.e. 5-mile hike if they're obese). so i agree with the rule for the kids even at the cost of some hurt feelings.

but i don't agree with it for the adults. They're smart enough to know if they should or shouldn't be participating. the ranks of adult volunteers is thin enough without restricting participation.

(although i have to chuckle that they first exclude gay leaders and now fat leaders. hilarious.)

Posted by: interestingidea1234 | May 15, 2009 8:43 AM | Report abuse

I'm so glad I'll never have to deal with the boy scout issue. They don't like gay people or atheists or fat people. Who will they decide isn't worthy next?

It's no secret that I'm biased on this issue, but I still think the policy is silly and smacks of fat shaming. I'd assume most adults are self-aware enough not to try trips they cannot accomplish. Not sure how I feel about the kids yet, But it seems to me that if you're going to use the (inaccurate and misleading) bmi charts to exclude people, then there should be some discretion at an individual level for people to prove themselves fit enough to participate.

Posted by: newsahm | May 15, 2009 9:05 AM | Report abuse

I think this is kinda nuts and overkill and honestly, just makes me feel kind of sad for any kid that may be struggling with is weight and in the boy scouts. Can't they call it a decision that should be made in coordination with every individual kid, parent and scout leader? This just feels like they're taking something to the extreme in a public way that really isn't necessary. I think scouting programs should emphasize exercise, fitness and good health. Period.

My husband was technically underweight growing up but very fit and would have been able to go on any kind of rigorous trip. But a rule like this probably would have excluded him.

I think they should focus on more productive and empowering policies and procedures.

Posted by: stephs98 | May 15, 2009 9:09 AM | Report abuse

If they are only looking at weight and height, then, well they are using inaccurate measures. For adults, the BMI calculation using those stats is highly misleading. They should use sound judgement, and not silly stats that mean nothing.

For kids? It is not just's completely an inaccurate measurement. Since it's not so great to use those numbers for adults, then for kids, who are not the same as adults (duh), the stats are downright wrong. This policy is really unbelievable. They seem to want a 'one size fits all' policy rather than actually having discussions and talks etc...(can johnny really take this trip? can you, adult dad man?). Why is that?

Posted by: atlmom1234 | May 15, 2009 9:47 AM | Report abuse

Whatever issues people have with the Boy Scouts Organization is irrelevant. I see this as a CYA move by the Boy Scouts, one that is all too common. I don't know if there was one incident or perhaps a BS Lawyer determined a risk, but litigation is all too common in this country and by putting these policies in place you mitigate the risk of being sued.

I also don't think all adults are honest about their limitations during physical activity, that is why every gym in the country will have you sign a waiver before membership. The problems with the BMI scale are real and it sounds like Deron Smith addressed that issue, as in adults with problematic BMI calculations will have an alternative.

Scouting does emphasize physical activity, diet and proper exercise. If you've ever picked up a Cub Scout or Boy Scout handbook a good 50-60% of the activites required to advance to the next rank are based on getting kids moving, exploring and making good decisions.

Posted by: cheekymonkey | May 15, 2009 9:50 AM | Report abuse

I'm the Adult Leader that this policy will exclude from some activities - but not too many of them. I like to backpack with my son's troop and as long as we are at one of the Scout Reservations in VA or on the Appalachian Trail in VA, then it's okay because we're within the 30 minute limit. I've never planned on going with the guys to Philmont or Seabase - mostly because I think those should be "all guy" trips where you can make flatulence jokes without your mom around.

Anyway - I'm not insulted. I understand completely. Actually, one of our Scoutmasters (who is within the limits) actually got turned back from Philmont because they detected a possible heart problem there. Thank God he didn't end up having a heart attack on the trail because that really is a wilderness area.

Posted by: GroovisMaximus61 | May 15, 2009 10:06 AM | Report abuse

as long as we're veering off-topic.... personally, i find the BMI a very good gauge of proportionate weight.

i'm 5'7" and weigh 150 - right at the top of the BMI 'normal' range. (and my little gut confirms that i could use to drop a few lbs)

at 160 lbs, i'm overweight. and you know what? when i'm 160 lbs i AM overweight. i have a gut and man-boobs and that layer of fat over my body. so what if i ran a marathon weighing 160? i was still overweight. fit, but overweight.

i have to get to 190 lbs to be obese (according to BMI). good lord. at 190 i would be huge. i would be obese.

i hope that HHS sticks to their assertions as our nation gets fatter and fatter.

Posted by: interestingidea1234 | May 15, 2009 10:11 AM | Report abuse

Groovis, My husband and I are Den leaders and I had not even heard of these restrictions till now, mainly because we have Wolves and haven't been on any long hikes where this might apply. At this age we are lucky to keep their attention during a 20 minute hike in the nearby State Park.

Interesting, What the BMI does not take into consideration is muscle, which weighs more than fat. If you were really bulky with muscle (perhaps you are, I don't know) and weighed 160 pounds the BMI would be a false indicator of being overweight or unfit. Bodybuilders are the perfect example.

Posted by: cheekymonkey | May 15, 2009 10:25 AM | Report abuse

totally agree, but really, how many people out there are so bulked up that their muscle density throws off the BMI? i think that it applies far more often than not.

obviously in this scenario where the BSA is using the BMI to qualify or disqualify participants i would hope that if a bodybuilder dad wanted to go on a hike he would be allowed.

and i'm sorry if it's harsh, but if a man is 6' and weighs 240, he's pretty fat.

Posted by: interestingidea1234 | May 15, 2009 10:32 AM | Report abuse

Cheeky - Wolves, eh? I remember it's the "herding cats" stage of Scouting. Thank you for being Den parents - it's a tough job.

Anyway, I'm not fit by any stretch of the imagination, so I can't make the "muscle weighs more than fat" argument. I'll bet that truly muscular guys (like football players, etc.) will be able to get some kind of dispensation for participation in the truly high adventure trips.

Being in physical shape that I am, I wouldn't even consider Philmont. Those mountain trails can be very narrow and treacherous and it would be tough to get a person down on a litter. I'm super cautious about not twisting my ankles while backpacking. I've been scared by trails a couple of times just in the Shenandoah - so I can't imagine being responsible for boys at Philmont.

Who knows? Maybe this will inspire me to shape up?

Posted by: GroovisMaximus61 | May 15, 2009 10:42 AM | Report abuse

Most of the bodybuilder dads I know (none, really) are too busy in the gym to go hiking ;)

In my not so extensive reading on exercise and weight loss, if you are doing muscle building exercise and attempting to lose weight, your results may not be seen on the scale. Basically you are building muscle while losing fat, depending on the level of diet and exercise. So while you may be in better shape as in inches lost in your waist, etc - your BMI may not change significantly.

Too much talk of diet and exercise on a Friday! Diets start on Monday, don't they?

Posted by: cheekymonkey | May 15, 2009 10:46 AM | Report abuse

Groovis, It's rewarding though, so right back atcha. Our Pack is looking for a Committee member, an Asst Pack Leader and Treasurer and I am hesitant to jump into any of those roles, I am just getting the hang of the Den leader thing!

Posted by: cheekymonkey | May 15, 2009 10:49 AM | Report abuse

Argh. This is annoying.

PLEASE screen folks for fitness. Do not let unfit people put themselves and their fellow Scouts and leaders in danger.

But that means you actually have to look at FITNESS levels. BMI has nothing to do with fitness. If you rely on BMI, you will exclude fit people and -- more importantly -- include unfit people. I know plenty of normal-weight couch-surfers who couldn't hang with a troop more than a few hundred yards. And my extremely broad-shouldered and muscular husband, who is technically "obese" on the BMI scale, can still kick my "normal"-BMI'd butt skiing and mountain biking.

Basic fitness testing is extremely easy. Look at resting heart rate. Or make someone get on a bike or treadmill for a few minutes and test heartrate response and recovery time (a shorthand version of lung function). Even the folks at my gym can do these. It's not that hard. BMI is just a lazy substitute.

What this policy tells me is that the Boy Scouts really don't care about making sure everyone on their trips is actually fit. They just want to look like they care, so they can insulate themselves from lawsuits.

Posted by: laura33 | May 15, 2009 11:49 AM | Report abuse

Laura, I was with you till you made the assumption that the BS's don't care. Having worked with the org at a local level nothing could be further from the truth. Is this CYA? Yes, but that does not mean they don't care. I don't know where the money will come from to screen everyone for fitness, which is why orgs use things like the BMI to screen.

As any fitness expert will tell you, you can have someone that is at the top of their form in biking and weight lifting and would not be able to run a mile. You also have people that can run marathons that can't make it through a spinning class. I have friends that are accomplished outdoorsman/hikers and they are very heavy and not in very good shape, but I can not keep up with them and I am in pretty good shape. Hiking and outdoor activities (camping, floating fishing) are really a matter of endurance and know how, which is what scouting teaches. The average Scout leader is going to know a bit more about outdoor activities than someone that pumps iron at a gym.

Most of the leaders I know won't have a problem with the BMI classification, but if they do there will hopefully (according to the guy quoted in the article) be an avenue to rectify the problem.

Posted by: cheekymonkey | May 15, 2009 12:05 PM | Report abuse

"I don't know where the money will come from to screen everyone for fitness, which is why orgs use things like the BMI to screen."

Cheeky, I get your point, but that's not what the forms say. According to the linked form, these strenuous events require a "Part B" form -- and that requires a doctor to fill it out. So "where they'll get the money" is they make you pay your doctor to do the assessment.

And that's the part that bugs me. If you just want to do a "free" approximation, then I can almost see BMI, because on average, people who are way outside the "normal" BMI range are not be as fit as those within it. Of course, that still doesn't do anything to ensure that the "normal" weight people are fit, which concerns me a lot, but if you want something free, that may be the best you can do.

But here, they're making people pay the money to go to the doctor anyway. So if you already have to fork over the $$ for a physical, then why wouldn't you have the doctor look directly at fitness, instead of just judging based on the same simple thing that you or I could figure out in 5 minutes on the internet?

Agreed that there is no perfect "test" of fitness, and that being a gym rat doesn't mean you're in the kind of shape necessary to go on a hike. But it's not like using the BMI addresses this issue, either. At least things like lung function and resting heartrate provide some indication of overall fitness level. If you gave me a choice of someone who was a little overweight but kicked butt in a lung function test, or someone who was normal weight but had a poor lung function, I'd put my money on the former every time.

And I really don't mean to say that the Scouts don't care what happens to their people. It just bugs me when I see simplistic policies like these that don't really address the underlying issue -- it just screams to me that the lawyers are doing their CYA thing, instead of looking for solutions that might actually protect people.

Posted by: laura33 | May 15, 2009 12:32 PM | Report abuse

Just an observation - I would be willing to bet that no lawyer told the scouts to do this. For the simple reason that a better way to avoid any kind of potential liability would be to have the adult or parent of the child sign a release form which informs them of the risk and requires that they, themselves accept the risk. Simply excluding people based on the BMI charts acutally opens up the scout organization to a potential for MORE lawsuits based on claims of discrimination.
While I think the underlying idea of the scouts is really good - community participation, citizenship, fitness, etc., I think on an organization level they have really jumped the shark when it comes to stuff like this and the other issues mentioned by other posters. And I am afraid that is one reason why they have trouble getting and retaining qualified volunteers. I hope they get it together before my kid wants to join because I do think it's good for kids to have these experiences.

Posted by: VaLGaL | May 15, 2009 12:33 PM | Report abuse

VaLGal - Boy Scouts in the National Capital area is booming - no shortage of opportunity or leaders. We're very lucky in this area where the boys have so many great opportunities for terrific experiences and so many troops to choose from. Every troop has its own personality - so you and your son have to do some research and know what you're looking for.

Posted by: GroovisMaximus61 | May 15, 2009 12:50 PM | Report abuse

Too true Groovis. Same to be said for Girl Scouts - I was in a Brownie troop that was awful, but I eventually moved to another troop that was awesome.

I am in a rather rural area near to a rather urban area and I think the urban areas are OK, but I know that many local troops struggle with keeping qualified leaders...maybe it's just a local problem.

Posted by: VaLGaL | May 15, 2009 1:00 PM | Report abuse

ValGal: I don't see any real shortage of qualified volunteers, the posts that are vacant in our Pack are due to leaders/parents moving up after their Webelos become Boy Scouts. I am sure these positions will get filled. If parents don't want to volunteer (on some level) because of issues surrounding the BS org in general, I don't think they would even be enrolling their sons. With Tigers (1st grade) parents are required to participate, so if someone objects to volunteering their child can't be a Tiger.

Also, parents do sign a waiver/permission slip if you want to take a "field trip" without parental supervision. When you sign your kid up you sign a waiver of sorts. Camping for Cub Scouts up through Bear (3rd grade) is with parents only, I don't know about Webelos. As the boys get older and become Boy Scouts (6th grade) and are not accompanied by their parents on hikes or "strenous activity" is what they are talking about here. My husband and I have not been asked to have our BMI checked because of the age of our Den. I can't help but think something happened that prompted this requirement, and the prudent (but annoying) thing to do as an org was to have these fitness requirements.

And Laura:

"these strenuous events require a "Part B" form -- and that requires a doctor to fill it out. So "where they'll get the money" is they make you pay your doctor to do the assessment."

Most annual check ups are covered under normal insurance, at least they are with mine. Also, strenuous activity is the qualifier here. As above, we are talking older, advanced hikers - 11-12 year olds and up and their supervision.

Posted by: cheekymonkey | May 15, 2009 1:16 PM | Report abuse

"Most annual check ups are covered under normal insurance, at least they are with mine."

That's right, folks. We don't need to worry about whether this is a sensible use of our healthcare resources, or whether everyone is insured with coverage of this sort, or has the cash to cover a copay to learn, or to cover the rack rate of this visit.

La la la la la -- cheeky has her fingers in her ears and doesn't hear you.

Posted by: anonfornow | May 15, 2009 3:55 PM | Report abuse

Anon, Nice retort. Whether the BS or you pay for the physical, it will cost something. One would assume it would be cheaper to do it under the leader's own plan, but if you think differently so be it.

It's always a recommendation to get Dr's approval before you undertake a strenuous activity, if you don't and get hurt then whose fault is it? Either you sign a waiver or get the check up, or in some instances both.

Posted by: cheekymonkey | May 18, 2009 1:23 PM | Report abuse

The BSA is not way off base with what they are trying. They just do not take in to account people who are fit but just outside teh weight limit. I am 5'8" 230 LBS. 16 LBS over the limit. But, I have never smoked, and am very active. I have always been heavier than most people my age. Also, with the amount of restrictions the BSA places on their "high adventure" it is practicaly no adventure at all. 8 year olds in other countries do more in their scout programs than 15 year olds are alowed to do here. This height weight chart is dicriminatory. That is wrong no matter how you package it.

Posted by: heavyscout | May 20, 2009 10:15 AM | Report abuse

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