Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Philmont and the BMI Scale

I entered into an interesting conversation with a friend name David Muncey (@dmuncey on Twitter) regarding the BSA's BMI/weight/height rules.  We both tend to believe that the BSA's "healthy/unhealthy" calculator isn't correct*.  Here is the BSA's chart to help you calculate your BMI:

So the rule is if you are gone for more than 72 hours and will be more than 30 minutes away from emergency medical services, you must comply with these standards or you can't go.
BSA's disclaimer on weight:
If you exceed the maximum weight for height as explained on the next page and your planned high-adventure activity will take you more than 30 minutes away from an emergency vehicle/accessible roadway, you will not be allowed to participate. At the discretion of the medical advisers of the event and/or camp, participation of an individual exceeding the maximum weight for height may be allowed if the body fat percentage measured by the health care provider is determined to be 20 percent or less for a female or 15 percent or less for a male. (Philmont requires a hydrostatic weighing or DXA test to be used for this determination.) Please call the event leader and/or camp if you have any questions. Enforcing the height/weight guidelines is strongly encouraged for all other events.
This is what the BSA says about obesity:
Excessive Body Weight (Obesity) 
Excessive body weight increases risk for numerous health problems. To ensure the best experience, Scouts and Scouters should be of proportional height and weight. One such measure is the Body Mass Index (BMI), which can be calculated using a tool from the Centers for Disease Control here: . Calculators for both adults and youth are available. It is recommended that youth fall within the fifth and 85th percentiles. Those in the 85th to 95th percentiles are at risk and should work to achieve a higher level of fitness.
I think we are so concerned as a society about how we look (or the desire to look "skinny") instead of taking into concern what we can do physically no matter age/height/weight.  And this isn't just exclusive to the BSA.  Society flaunts women and men (with ridiculous 6 packs) of ridiculous weight on TV ads showing me and my children what you "should look like" to be healthy.  Even skinny people can not be healthy but we assume as a society that they are.

For example, I have a daughter who is 15 and 5 foot.  She barely weights 100 pounds.  Now according to this chart she is in within her BMI and "in shape".........but she isn't.  She eats nothing but crap (she admits it freely) and doesn't exercise (she freely admits that too).  She did a home school PE exam about a year ago and I did better than she did on the exam.  Philmont wouldn't be the place to send her especially if we put a 30 to 40 pound pack on her back.  Even though she fits in the BMI model and would have been given clearance to attend Philmont, she clearly shouldn't go.

David Muncey gives an example of the inconsistency of the BMI scale the BSA uses:
I just wish that there was a back up plan in place or secondary criteria. I have a friend who was in awesome shape, just quite muscular so his BMI was high. He wouldn't be allowed to go because of that, when he would have been the most physically fit person on the trail. He adjusted his fitness routine and got his weight down, but he's not nearly as muscular and almost looks sick now.
I think the key to any High Adventure Base is training for the event and the ability for the BSA to look past my spare tire and let me prove to them that I can hike 75 miles in 10 days through some other test other than my BMI**.

I live in a very flat area.  The closest place to us that has hills (75 feet +/- hills) is over an hour away.  How do we train to climb thousands of feet with huge backpacks?  Juniper Pointe won't do it.  We are finding a building 15+ floors (or football stadium) to train in the stairwells.  Now this isn't the perfect way to train but we have to do what we have to do with what we have.  But I will be training and training hard.

Now I am not saying Scouts shouldn't be physically strong.  Just the opposite.  My body type isn't probably the best example for my Scouts though I can school them in a lot of sports (and have).  Scouts should be training to go to Philmont or whatever High Adventure Base they choose.  I am just saying we shouldn't limit these camps to skinny people who fit the BMI scale but to healthy, trained people no matter their weight as long as they can prove they can do the hard work.

So how do they prove they are healthy and trained?  Not sure.  That is the million dollar question.

* Full disclosure - I am a fat guy and I am an especially fat guy according to the BSA's height/weight standards.
** Philmont can't be anything close to a Tough Mudder!!

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