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Obese Boy Scouts left out of national gathering

Craig Cunningham / The Charleston Daily Mail via AP

The tents below will house staff members at the Summit Bechtel Family National Scout Reserve in Glen Jean, W. Va. More than 30,000 Scouts, leaders and others will descend on southern West Virginia for the first ever National Scout Jamboree to be held at the site.

Boy Scouts attending this year’s National Scout Jamboree will have a lot more physical challenges to endure there, but even before setting up camp in West Virginia they had to undergo fitness exams, including a screening tool for obesity.

The new site for the celebration of Scouting, the jamboree, which officially begins Tuesday, is located on more than 10,000 acres in the southern part of the Mountain State. More than 30,000 youth and leaders are expected to join the 10-day jamboree at the Summit Bechtel Family National Scout Reserve.

The jamboree will be held “on foot,” meaning there will be no bus circuits or personal vehicles on site. Participants will be hiking even more than in the past, with the site providing hilly inclines, and some activities – climbing, mountain biking, rappelling, rafting and skateboarding – will require more stamina and fitness, the Boy Scouts of America said on its website.

“It is essential that all participants and staff are prepared for their Summit jamboree experience,” the Boy Scouts said. “Our goal is to prevent any serious health-related event from occurring, and ensuring that all of our participants and staff are ‘physically strong.’”

The Boy Scouts of America published its height and weight requirements years in advance of the Jamboree, prompting many Scouts and adult leaders to begin a health regimen to shed pounds, Deron Smith, a spokesman for the organization, said in an email.

“Teaching Scouts and Scouters how to live a sustainable life, which includes a healthy lifestyle, and the health of our participants are important goals of the jamboree,” he said.

More than one third of American children and adolescents were overweight or obese in 2010, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and tripled in adolescents in the last three decades.

The Boy Scouts used the CDC’s body mass index (BMI), a screening tool for obesity, in deciding whether adults and youth could join the jamboree, which is held every four years. For past jamborees, attendees filled out health forms, received a physical and got a doctor’s release, but the BMI was a factor added for this year’s event, Smith said.

BMIs of 25.0 to 29.9 fall in the overweight range, while those 30.0 or higher are considered obese, the Boy Scouts said.

Those applicants whose BMI was greater than 40.0 were not allowed to participate. Jamboree medical staff had to review all applicants in the 32.0-39.9 range, including checking their health history and the recommendation of the individual’s medical provider.

The new jamboree site offers 36 miles of mountain bike trails, more than five miles of zip line challenge courses, kayaking, bouldering and BMX, among other activities. The staff village is also 200 feet higher than the flag plaza in the Summit Center, and staff would make that hike – or one similar to it – probably two times a day, the Boy Scouts said. Youth from ages 12 to 21 were expected to participate.

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The national jamboree is a “physically demanding experience” being conducted at a “high-adventure site,” the Boy Scouts said on its website. “For that reason, physical standards have been set unique to the jamboree. 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.”

Smith said Scouts and adult leaders who didn’t meet the requirements chose not to apply, and he didn’t have data on the numbers in that group who were impacted by the fitness standards.