I thought Thanksgiving was an apt time to discuss a Pennsylvania university’s new requirement that overweight undergraduates take a fitness course to receive their degrees.
An historically black college, Lincoln University said that the school is responding to deadly rates of obesity and diabetes, especially in the African-American community.
Here are excerpts from the Associated Press story on this issue:
“We know we’re in the midst of an obesity epidemic,” said James L. DeBoy, chairman of Lincoln’s department of health, physical education and recreation. “We have an obligation to address this head on, knowing full well there’s going to be some fallout.”
The fallout began this week on Lincoln’s campus about 45 miles southwest of Philadelphia, where seniors — the first class affected by the mandate — began realizing their last chance to take the class would be this spring.
Tiana Lawson, a 21-year-old senior, wrote in this week’s edition of The Lincolnian, the student newspaper, that she “didn’t come to Lincoln to be told that my weight is not in an acceptable range. I came here to get an education.”
In an interview Friday, Lawson said she has no problem with getting healthy or losing weight. But she does have a problem with larger students being singled out.
“If Lincoln truly is concerned about everyone being healthy, then everyone should have to take this gym class, not just people who happen to be bigger,” she said.
The mandate, which took effect for freshmen entering in fall 2006, requires students to get tested for their body mass index, a measure of weight to height.
A normal BMI is between 18.5 and 24.9. Students with one that’s 30 or above — considered obese — are required to take a class called “Fitness for Life,” which meets three hours a week.
The course involves walking, aerobics, weight training information on nutrition, stress and sleep, DeBoy said.and other physical activities, as well as
As of this fall, DeBoy estimated about 80 seniors — 16 percent of the class — had not had their body mass index tested nor taken the fitness class. Some of those students will likely be exempt from taking the class once they get their BMI results, he said.
Health experts applaud the school’s intent, if not its execution. Mark Rothstein, director of the bioethics institute at the University of Louisville’s School of Medicine, said being forced to disclose such health information is “at least awkward and often distasteful.”
And it doesn’t necessarily lead to the best outcomes, he said, noting that “when the (health) goals are imposed on people, they don’t do that well in meeting them.”
DeBoy stressed that students are not required to lose weight or lower their BMI; they must only pass the class through attendance and participation.
“It’s the sound mind and the sound body concept,” DeBoy said. “I think the university, to its credit, is trying to be proactive.”
John Rowley, director of Fitness & Wellness at the American Institute of Healthcare and Fitness, is among the experts raising concerns about the policy. He issued this statement:
This new requirement, while it has the right thought in mind, is problematic for many reasons. First of all, by singling out only overweight students, the university is unfairly discriminating and also leaving out a number of students who may have healthy BMIs, yet still lead relatively unhealthy lifestyles, which will affect them later in life. There are plenty of “skinnier” students who do not exercise or observe healthy eating habits, and while this new requirement is in place to tackle the billion dollar obesity epidemic, the program could be a lot more far-reaching by promoting a healthier lifestyle and fitness level for all students.
Lifestyle habits are developed during these years and in many cases do not affect the person for years to come. Heart failure is still a leading cause of death and is not necessarily correlated with obesity, but rather, with poor lifestyle habits and lack of exercise. By implementing health and fitness requirements across the board, we could tackle not only obesity but other far-reaching health problems, which affect both health and the economy, as well.
When you are done with your pumpkin pie, give this some consideration and let’s discuss. I am all for mandatory fitness classes for all students.