The Scouts are introducing an “anti-fat” badge for their youngest recruits in response to concerns that children are struggling with the organisation’s traditional outdoor activities such as mountain climbing and hiking because they are unfit and overweight.
The health and fitness activity badge for Beaver Scouts, aged 6-8, was developed by James Stuttard, who described it informally as “an anti-fat-and-lazy badge”.
He said: “A hundred years ago Scouts were big on the new sport of callisthenics, with physical lunges encouraged. Being active and adventurous is part of what Scouts do . . . but child obesity is one of the big challenges for young people this century.
“Given that national statistics show that a third of 10 and 11-year-olds are overweight or obese and so are more than one in five of four and five-year-olds, it would not be surprising if some of our Scouts struggled with the more vigorous activities such as mountain climbing or hiking because of weight issues . . . [although] when young people do physically struggle then you can adapt the activities.
“The Scouts have been looking at what they can do to put more focus on what can be done to tackle the obesity epidemic.”
To get the new fitness badge — showing an apple with a heart inside it — children have to complete an activity such as hula-hooping, skipping, crab football or an obstacle course under the watchful eye of their Beaver leader. They also have to give a presentation or make a poster about healthy food and demonstrate how to measure their heart rate before and after exercise.
The badge activities have already been tried out by about 4,000 children, including the 5th Newbold Scout group in Rugby, Warwickshire.
Tony Marsella, leader of the Newbold group — who has lost three stone since joining the Scouts as a leader — supervises Beavers, as well as 14 to 18-year-old Scouts.
He said that over his lifetime he had seen a shift from active outdoor play being the norm for children to a couch-potato, online lifestyle for the current generation.
“There are so many sedentary activities online now — the Xbox, social media, Facebook,” he said. “When I was a child you got sent out to play until it was dark.”
He added that the childhood obesity statistics were “horrifying” and some parents worried about the risks of letting children play outside.
He had seen young children start at Beavers “a bit chubby”, but the aim was to “point them in the right direction”.
Older overweight Scouts, who struggle with vigorous activities such as rock climbing, could be given more time to rest on outings, he said. It was up to leaders to adapt activities to ensure no one felt left out. “We treat everyone as individuals and make sure they still feel part of the group,” he said.
Shannon, 7, who is in Marsella’s Beavers group and has taken the new health and fitness badge, said: “I really liked doing the badge. I got to run around and jump up and down on bubble wrap to pop it — that was my favourite. We made fruit salad and it was really tasty. I will try to make it again at home. And now I have another badge for my uniform — I’m really happy.”
Another new badge for six-year-olds, designed to complement the health and fitness badge, will reward them for learning how to cook over an open campfire.
The camp cooking badge, described informally by Stuttard as “the burn-stuff-over-a-fire” badge, has children lighting fires under supervision and cooking healthy open-air meals such as vegetable kebabs, omelettes and home-made meatballs or baked potatoes.
One popular recipe involves hollowing out an orange, cracking an egg inside and then wrapping the orange in tinfoil and putting it over the fire. “The egg tastes glorious,” said Stuttard. The same recipe works with an apple.
Toasting marshmallows will be allowed, he added — but only in moderation.
Earlier this year the chief Scout, the former SAS soldier and television adventurer Bear Grylls, launched a manifesto for children that included letting them have outdoor adventures, banning computer games and getting fit.