Dear Mr. McCarthy,
It has been brought to our attention, via the Associated Press, that the Boy Scouts of America will be hosting its annual Jamboree soon. We have also learned that the BSA has decided to determine eligibility for participation in this event based largely on BMI. As we understand the guidelines, Scouts whose BMI is 40 or above will be banned from the event, while those with a BMI between 32 and 39.9 must submit medical information to be approved. It seems from the AP article that the desired outcome from such a step is to advocate a “sustainable, healthy lifestyle” via exclusion of those who have not met this entry requirement. We presume the intent is to motivate Scouts to make supposedly healthy behavioral changes. As the Chair of the Binge Eating Disorder Association, the Board of Directors and I invite your organization to consider that this restriction is ill informed, and damaging to the very possibility of the “healthy lifestyle” you propose.
As the research continues to show, neither shame nor dieting result in long term good health. In fact dieting, with a 97% failure rate, is strongly correlated with eating disorders (in both genders), long term weight gain, and body dissatisfaction (Puhl, 2008). Body dissatisfaction does not lead to sustained self care; quite to the contrary, it leads to hopelessness and damaged self worth (AED Position Paper, 2009). Additionally, BMI is an extremely problematic measurement as a health indicator; it was never designed to be used to determine health levels in a single individual (longevity actually is greatest in the “overweight” category)(CDC, 2010). We know too from the research that being thin is not a marker of health, as obesity is not a marker of disease in any given individual. Obesity is a correlated risk factor for health problems, but we cannot assume causality in any given person. Thin is neither possible, nor desirable, for every body. There are naturally “thin” people with diabetes, and there are naturally “fat” people with excellent HDL levels. Among humans, there is a naturally occurring range of weights and sizes that support health and longevity.
Given your mission of helping kids live a “sustainable, healthy lifestyle”, it seems contrary that kids at any weight can’t participate in such an event as the Jamboree. Does the BSA in fact want to encourage activity, movement and self care for the very group toward which you have directed this restriction? Or would you rather they be left out of this celebration of a “sustainable, healthy life”? What makes for sustained health is a deep sense of responsibility to and pride in one’s physical body no matter its shape, access to good food and activity, and the support of one’s community to encourage movement, adventure, and joy, without fear of shame. The responsibility to teach self respect and self care should fall to the administration and scout leaders in the BSA. Sadly, this policy seems yet another message of weight stigma and shame in the lives of those who most need encouragement to care for their bodies, and opportunity to take part in activity with peers at whatever size or weight they may be.
As community leaders, BSA can play an important role in helping boys of many shapes and sizes to experience all that BSA has to offer, without fear or shame.
The BEDA Board encourages you to abandon this policy immediately and find creative ways to allow every child to participate in your Jamboree celebrations.
Amy Pershing, Chair
BEDA Board of Directors