How to help Scouts with nutritional problems

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QUESTION: A Scout in Scouter B.P.’s troop has such poor nutrition that the boy has collapsed during numerous activities. B.P. is looking for ways to help the Scout’s parents understand the seriousness of this problem.


Part C of the BSA medical form should be completed for anything that is “strenuous and demanding.” If the Scout is in as poor a condition as you believe, he should not be able to get this approval from his physician.

Also, remind him that a Scout is supposed to keep himself physically strong. This is a great way to get him started on Personal Fitness merit badge. His personal improvement not only results in his improved health but also an earned Eagle-required merit badge. And it helps give him structure in getting healthy when he might not otherwise have support.

In addition, let him know that his issue is impacting the other Scouts and that, if it happens again, you will have to call EMS to transport him to the hospital. Make sure you explain that this is not a punishment. He needs to understand you care about him and that this is the most appropriate action. Be sure to speak about your concerns with his parents so they are aware of the situation.

Committee Member A.S.
Lake Hiawatha, N.J.


Have a discussion with the parents. Start with the question, “Is there anything we need to know about Johnny’s diet that affects his participation?” Don’t use the directive, “Johnny can’t participate unless his diet improves.” The question invites dialogue; the directive invites defensiveness.

It’s possible that these parents have already suffered through all the tears and fights associated with trying to improve the young man’s diet. Don’t assume the parents are “enabling” unless you have actual knowledge of everything surrounding this young man.

Many conditions, including autism spectrum disorders, can cause young men to be problem (not picky) eaters. Often, the taste, smells, or textures of food are simply intolerable to them.

Newark, Ill.


The statement “such poor nutrition” seems vague to me. Does he have a hypoglycemia condition? Is he undiagnosed with diabetes? Most kids who are picky eaters will get hungry and eventually eat what is available. An average child will not let himself go until he passes out.

Find a nutritionist or diabetes educator to come talk to the troop about healthy eating and signs of diabetes and other eating-related issues, inviting the parents to stay. I am diabetic, and it sounds to me as if there may be more going on here than meets the eye.

Vero Beach, Fla.


Is this a financial issue that the family is ashamed to admit? Were/are the parents obese and fear the same for their son? If it is simply a matter of poor nutrition, two leaders together need to approach the parents and explain the severity of the situation.

We had a Scout who refused to eat many items (due to stubbornness), and he eventually transferred to a troop with more members and therefore more options. It’s our objective to prepare these young men for dealing with situations that they’ll encounter in the real world. Unfortunately, not all of them will see each lesson as a positive one.

Committee Chair N.M.
Casselberry, Fla.


Invite the Scout’s parents to attend the troop activities. Nothing hits home harder than seeing your child struggle to accomplish something others can complete with little difficulty.

Explain where their son’s problem areas are and cite specific incidents when his poor diet has caused him issues. Discuss any medical conditions the Scout may have and the danger he poses to himself.

When talking to the parents, it’s important to be direct. Talk to the parents like you would want someone to discuss this situation with you.

Be prepared to offer resources outside the troop or chartered organization. Take the time to find out what is offered in your local community and bring contact numbers with you to the meeting.

With a little preparation and research you can have answers to the questions the family might ask or at least know where to find the answers.

Keizer, Ore.


Do you have a current physical on file for the Scout? If not, require one to be turned in immediately.

Advancement Chair C.H.
Carlisle, Pa.


The troop committee chair should talk to the parents about how the troop needs specific directions from the Scout’s physician to know how to keep him safe on outings. Perhaps a parent needs to be on the outing to monitor and observe what’s happening.

I would treat this much like a peanut allergy or diabetes. We do need to accommodate Scouts with varying needs, but getting a physician’s diagnosis is important.

Millersville, Pa.


What does “collapse” mean? Does he pass out? Does he seize? Malnutrition would not be the most likely cause of this. It could be seizures, diabetes, dehydration, or any number of other possibilities that need to be ruled out—immediately.

Associate Advisor H.P.
Palmyra, Va.


Eating and hydration can be a safety concern; eating is an issue of preparedness, respect for your fellow participants, and responsibility. Leaders should approach this Scout’s parents and ask if there is an underlying medical or emotional disorder causing the problem and decide on a way to address the situation together.

Leaders need to explain the importance of staying fed and hydrated to Scouts so they clearly understand it is an important part of their ability to participate in activities.

Scoutmaster C.G.
Kennett Square, Pa.

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  1. Ref Hiking Slowdown: Couple of boys not being able to stay with the main group.
    On these hikes consider the size of the leader and his/her stride. If he/she is taller with long legs switch him/her out as the lead. If he/she is a shorter person but is one that is full of energy 24/7 (energizer bunny) switch that person out. Put in a person that is average in stature and energy. This should help the pace. Also check the gear the youth have on their person (Pack size and load, also the load placement) Lighten it up a bit for them and tell the youth they will be more responsible for duties in camp if they cannot carry their share. This will free up other scouts on other duties. Foot wear also plays a big role in hiking fatigue, . I am a tall person with a good stride, I carry a max 75-85 lb external frame pack or a max 60 lb internal frame pack. I can feel a big differance in hiking if I increase the load in either pack. I first notice it in my stride then speed on flat ground, even more on hills and uneven ground. Always be encouraging before, durring and after the hike. This helps in many ways. Condition always before the hike.
    I hope this helps
    Ron Russell
    Venture Crew 401 & Troop 16 Waukegan IL.
    Northeast IL Council

  2. Part of the answer to the hiking issue depends on the size of your troop. If you are able to break your group into patrols, you have the option of creating groups that travel at different paces. Make sure that all of your patrols have a map of the hike, and preferably a leader or older scout familiar with the area. Also remember what is taught at Philmont… when the lead group reaches a fork, they wait for all of the other groups to reach that point to ensure that all follow the same path.

  3. Being a Personal Fitness MB Councsleor and also a nutrition/fitness nut, I would introduce this as a way to help the whole family and to make sure they understand this is the fuel that his body needs to run on. Carbs and junk are just that. Would you put junk in your car’s fuel tank? We need lean meats and veggies, fruits, and NO soda. I would also find out if he has any underlying medical conditions that need to be taken into consideration and go over many nutrition guidelines that the American Diabetes Assoc. and the American Dietetics Association have available.

    The whole issue of Juvenile Diabetes and other nutrition related metabolic illnesses would need to be addressed as a troop as well for campouts and hikes. There is no greater feeling than a body that works correctly. Your food is your fuel and this is the message we need to get to our youth.

    There are many ways to get this to the youth. One is a meeting with parents, the other is to just teach the troop youth how to cook healthy. Limit the mac and cheese on campouts. Instead make packet meals with chicken or lean ground meats, veggies, and seasoning.

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