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Boy Scouts shun obese members as controversy continues

Boy Scouts shun obese members as controversy continues
Boy Scouts hoping to attend the organization’s National Scout Jamboree will have to pass a physical fitness test before joining in the activities, leaving many wondering if the notoriously homophobic group is now excluding the overweight as well.

The National Jamboree is traditionally held every four years at national historical sites near Washington, DC or in Pennsylvania. When the 2013 Jamboree officially begins in West Virginia, though, it will be the first time the Boy Scouts of America celebrate at the Summit Bechtel Family National Scout Reserve. 

Activities for the approximately 40,000 boys and scout leaders will include rock climbing, whitewater rafting, mountain biking, rappelling, skateboarding and others. An additional 50,000 visitors are expected to be on hand for the festivities. 
Past Jamborees determined who was allowed to participate with health forms and doctor’s releases, but this year the Boy Scouts of America is requiring all applicants to have a Body Mass Index (BMI) of no more than 40.0. Someone is considered morbidly obese if he or she is 100 pounds over his or her ideal body weight and has a BMI of 40.0. 

We required a level of fitness in order to come to the jamboree that we haven’t required before,” Dan McCarthy, director of the BSA’s Summit Group, told the Associated Press Monday. “And that has motivated an enormous return in terms of both kids and adults getting serious about improving their health.” 

Used to determine an individual’s ideal physical condition, BMI calculations have become increasingly popular in determining the specifics of one’s fitness. BMIs of 25.0 to 29.9 fall in the overweight range, while those with 30.0 or higher are considered obese. 

The average American male has a BMI of 28.5, with females reporting 29.0. Approximately 17 per cent of American children between ages 2 and 19 are considered obese, figures that have doubled for children and tripled for adolescents over the past 20 years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  

The 2013 Jamboree is a “physically demanding experience” conducted at a “high-adventure site,” according to the BSA’s website. 

For that reason, physical standards have been set unique to the jamboree,” it continued. “These standards help highlight some of the challenging terrain at the Summit and types of activities that will take place, all with the goal of keeping participants safe.” 

Boy scouts from Winchester, Virginia climb atop the boulders of "Devil's Den", in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. (AFP Photo / John Moore)

Each Scout is also expected to hike three miles uphill, where a barbecue lunch will be waiting at the top. No buses or personal vehicles will be allowed at the summit site. 

Scouts hoping to participate have raised an average $1,200 to attend the Jamboree. It’s unknown if that sum will be enough to sustain the celebration, though, as Scout membership continues to fall and funding for the massive Summit park has yet to reach its necessary goal. 

The unfinished project was originally budgeted at $176 million but costs are expected to reach at least $350 million before breaking $439 million in 2015, according to Reuters. Financial numbers indicate internal fund raising has fallen $108 million behind its intended target of $342.6 million.

If BSA leadership is concerned about the 103-year-old nonprofit organization’s downfall, though, they have not mentioned it on the eve of the jamboree.

People are going to see kids getting together, having a great time and learning,” Wayne Brock, the BSA’s chief executive told the Associated Press. “That’s what the public will see is what Scouting is really all about.” 

But instead of admiring harmonious kayak rides, the public has slowly abandoned BSA because of its homophobic policies. The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation successfully persuaded popular musical acts Carly Rae Jepsen and Train to boycott this year’s Jamboree because of the Scouts’ refusal to include all sexual orientations. 

After threats of having its tax-exempt status revoked, the BSA reluctantly allowed gay troops to enter, beginning in January 2014. The policy has angered religious conservatives, who have pulled out and threatened to start a new group in competition with the BSA, and progressives, who feel January 2014 is too long to wait for complete inclusion. Openly gay adults are still forbidden from joining. 

If a young man has a same-sex attraction he would not be turned away in the program, but he’s not going to be allowed to kind of openly flaunt it and carry a rainbow flag,” John Stemberger, a father who pulled his sons out of the BSA, told NBC. “There is not going to be any kind of a witch hunt in our organization for people and what their sexual orientation’s are. We’re going to focus on sexual purity not sexual orientation.”