Fitness a requirement for Boy Scout national Jamboree

Staff members arrive at the Summit Bechtel Family National Scout Reserve near Glen Jean, W.Va., for the Boy Scouts of America's national Jamboree on Monday. This year's event is the first to involve fitness requirements for participants.
(Chris Dorst / Associated Press)

For this year’s Boy Scouts of America national Jamboree, “Be Prepared” took on a new meaning: fitness.

Thousands of Boy Scouts are rock climbing, BMX biking and zip-lining in West Virginia this week, hoofing it from place to place over rugged terrain for the 10-day national Jamboree program.

Held for the first time at the Summit Bechtel Family National Scout Reserve, the Jamboree boasts an expanded set of venues for the 30,000 Scouts and their leaders, including mountain bike trails, challenge courses and a 3-mile hike up to a mountaintop.


But to participate, Scouts and leaders had to be in shape. Under new fitness requirements, anybody with a body mass index above 40 was ineligible.

Those with a BMI between 32 and 39.9, meanwhile, were required to submit additional health information to Jamboree medical staff for review. The BMI is a body fat measurement calculated by height and weight.

Safety concerns, and a longstanding commitment to healthful lifestyles, drove the new health standard, officials said.

“This is just a more physically demanding site,” said Glenn Ault, the chief medical officer for the Jamboree, told the Los Angeles Times. “It’s a little bit more of a challenge to get someone off site if something did happen.”

For nearly 30 years, the national Jamboree was held every four years at Fort A.P. Hill in eastern Virginia. The Army base, a flatter site with temporary facilities, limited the scope of what the Jamboree could offer, said Larry Pritchard, the director of national Jamboree.

The permanent West Virginia location, selected in 2009, allows for a range of more physically demanding, adventurous activities, Pritchard said.

In a video posted on the “Be Prepared” section of the national Jamboree website, Tico Perez, the national commissioner of Boy Scouts of America, alerts participants to the changes.

“There’s going to be no cars, no buses, no vans. We’re going to hoof it the entire time,” he said.

Leaders and camp staff members, too, have to make the grade. The staff camp is located about half a mile up a hill, a climb of 200-300 feet -- “not a killer hike,” but one that will have to be completed at least a couple of times a day, Perez said.

Perez noted in the video that he’s working to get his own BMI below 32 -- a sign of what Scout officials say is a broader, positive effort to push to get in shape.

“Our goal is really to inspire kids to lead healthy lifestyles,” Ault said.

The new requirements were first advertised two years ago. Some youths and adults lost as much as 30 pounds in order to attend the 2013 program, Ault said.

Ultimately, no youth who submitted a medical form was denied participation, Ault said, though it is not known how many who did not meet the requirements decided not to apply.

Deron Smith, a spokesman for the Boy Scouts of America, said the Scouts had not received any complaints about the requirements.

Though this is the first time specific health requirements have been put in place for the national Jamboree, the Boy Scouts’ three other adventure camp bases also have BMI standards.

A less clear-cut version of the standards applied to the 2010 national Jamboree, where participants were required to submit health records information for review. Officials were worried about heat and heat exhaustion, and counseled people with conditions such as obesity, cardiac disease and diabetes about attending the program.


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