This year, for the very first time, The Boy Scouts of the America has decided to bar obese scouts from their annual Jamboree. It’s the organization’s biggest even of the year, so the announcement prompted a lot of discussion in the media. Agree or disagree, the decision wasn’t made in a vacuum.
Obesity rates in the United States have doubled among children and tripled among adolescents in the past 30 years. In 2010, 18% of children were considered to be obese. Adolescents also hit the 18% obesity mark. In this same year, it was found that one-third of children and adolescents in the U.S. were overweight or obese.
What does this mean? What are the consequences? Obesity among young people carries with it potential health issues. They are more apt to have risk factors for heart disease like high cholesterol and/or high blood pressure. They can become prediabetic or diabetic. They can also develop bone and joint problems, sleep apnea and other physical disease states and conditions. These used to be adult problems. Not anymore.
Obese children are more likely to become obese adults. The risks of disease states and conditions will continue into adulthood. Heart disease, stroke, diabetes, osteoarthritis, certain cancers, sleep apnea, and more, could be in their futures, some sooner than later. It’s a very real problem.
Also at issue is the emotional toll felt by many children and adolescents who carry too much weight on their frames. Impaired social relationships, distressed psychological states and poor self esteem can result. Negative outcomes can run the gamut and can be severe. Like the physical issues, this too is a very real problem.
In the past week or so, it was reported that the Boy Scouts of America were excluding any member with a body mass index (BMI) of 40 or above from its physically active annual jamboree. The reasoning of the powers that be included the strenuous nature of the event and their intent to try and teach healthy living. What could be less healthy than telling part of the group that they can’t go to their exercise retreat? It’s a physical and mental double whammy.
How would you feel if you were part of a group, and one day were told that because of your weight, you couldn’t attend an important event that many of your fellow members would be attending and enjoying? Would this take an emotional toll on you? It would on me. And I’m an adult. It can be far worse to experience something like this at a younger age. By excluding these obese individuals, the Boy Scouts are potentially harming the affected scouts’ mental health. They may feel isolated, embarrassed, depressed, angry and/or stigmatized.
And equally important is the physical aspect of it. Kids of all weights benefit from exercise. Wouldn’t it be ideal to get all of the scouts, including the overweight and obese ones, moving? What better place to do that than at the jamboree? If the organizers thought that the course was too advanced for those who were more out of shape, then why not have less strenuous options? By doing so, they would take a step forward in teaching these boys that exclusion isn’t okay and that everyone of all shape and size should be engaging in exercise. And they also may improve the health, both mental and physical, of those who may need it most.
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Source: CDC. (n.d.) Childhood obesity fact. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/healthyyouth/obesity/facts.htm