No college degree for overweight students without fitness class

Increasing national concerns over obesity have now spread to college campuses.
Increasing national concerns over obesity have now spread to college campuses.

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 and other physical activities, as well as information on nutrition, stress and sleep, DeBoy said.

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.

30 comments Add your comment

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Old School

November 26th, 2009
6:10 am

Maybe social/fitness companies like Curves could partner with schools (colleges and especially high schools). The movement to music is fun and the program could include the nutrition and health instruction. If classes are too large for the number of pieces of equipment, add a walking element, a few stationary bikes and elliptical machines etc. This would be perfect for girls and would sure beat everybody doing the same thing at the same time. Quite possibly the young ladies might continue exercising after graduation.

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RJ

November 26th, 2009
10:05 am

It is unfair to single out students that are obese. It also doesn’t address the issue with obesity. Many of those “skinny” students today will become obese later in life. This course should be required of all students on campus. My husband is a prime example of someone that is extremely slim, yet eats horribly. He can eat anything he wants and never gains a pound. This is more about making healthy choices to live. Everyone could benefit from that advice.

high school teacher

November 26th, 2009
10:40 am

If you want to talk about poor health habits, let’s discuss those students well within the healthy BMI range who can’t stand up straight on Saturday mornings from the drinking binges the night before. Where’s their healthy lifestyles class? BMI is not the only indicator of proper health and nutrition.

Road Scholar

November 26th, 2009
11:04 am

Being heavy myself I lost weight and became fit in college. A low fixed budget helped cause it. But I learned to exercise. Unfortunately since then I have put on weight. Recently diagnosed with type 2 diabetes I have learned to eat smarter and avoid sugar for the most part. I have lost 20 lbs and want to lose even more. I agree that the nutition class should be mandatory along with an etiquette and manners course. Some parents haven’t taught their kids how to represent themselves, and a course like this would help address the lack of mannaers many have.

Singing to the Choir

November 26th, 2009
12:47 pm

I think a better approach would be a discount on healthcare for those that are not over weight. I’m not sure forcing individuals is the correct approach. What about the students that smoke? If requiring a class for students with a certain BMI then why not smokers as well.

Kommonsense

November 26th, 2009
1:37 pm

A requirement posted since starting in 2006 and which 84% have complied with cannot be considered discriminatory. Historically those on the lower end of the education scale tend to be obese. A student should look at it as attainable goal rather than trying to defend your lifestyle. You knew 4 years ago, plenty of time to belly up and develop a healthier person vs. wolfing down fast food.

Carla

November 26th, 2009
2:50 pm

I think it’s a good course to offer; however, to make it a mandate seems over zealous almost Kastapo like!

Ole Guy

November 26th, 2009
3:51 pm

What has the concept, the very fabric, of education come down to in the Red White and Blue. I won’t bore the good readers with “back-in-the-Good-Ole-days” yarns about kids who had to have two broken legs, simultaneously, to keep them from pick-up ball games, nor about college curricula that, at one time, included MANDATORY PE, both in team and individual sports. No, I won’t bore the readers with what everyone, including the educational elite, knows but is too afraid to mandate. Exactly what does it cost, in terms of dollars and cents (that could probably just as well be “sense”) to hire a coach and have him/her supervise a bunch of kids in organized sports. Please don’t cry over paper thin budgets and potential law suits…this is not the very first time budgetary constraints have been a thorn in the sides of our leaders (another title issued with much charity). The choice, LEADERS, is really quite simple: 1) do the right thing…voice the unpopular financial demands to those who control the “beans”, thereby endangering any personal/political well-being you may enjoy, or 2) relegate generations of kids to pre-mature aging, a cafeteria of illnesses, and early graves, thereby enforcing the hypocritical mantra “what’s best for the kids”.

Wounded Warrior

November 27th, 2009
3:17 am

What about someone with a disability? Hopefully the ADA will not be violated…regarding if someone’s BMI is above 30.

Nutrician should be taught along with personal finance…many things students find out the hard way sometimes.

Ole Guy

November 27th, 2009
9:56 am

How much time and money, both public and private, are expended on issues which, once upon a time, were considered “learn as you go…learn in the normal course of life”. Most-certainly, these topics concerning health and well-being are of vast importance and are more-than deserving of top billing in the education processes of all generations. HOWEVER, there seems to be some sort of…let’s call it…reversal of common sense. Acknowledged that we, as a society, are bombarded 24/7 with the callings…some subtle, some not so…of lousy chow, and the “trappings of the good life”, exemplified by over-indulgence in technology as a substitute for activities once reserved for the “human mechanism”. After-school ballgames, once a staple of life, are now replaced with Game Boys and the like. The brain’s need to actually think has been relieved by such techno wonders as spell check; we no longer have to inundate the younguns with learning the rules of grammer…if the “e” and the “i” are reversed, the computer will square it away. Given the presumption that the many blogs and comments read are authored by people with at least an 8th grade education, one has to wonder where basic education went. Many years ago, I purchased, at a yard sale, a high school year book from the 40th era. While reading some of the comments written within the pages of a lifetime long gone, one had to marvel at the quality of expression, presumably by kids of mid-to-late teens. Will somebody please explain…WHAT THE HELL HAPPENED?

"Will somebody please explain…WHAT THE HELL HAPPENED?"

November 27th, 2009
1:24 pm

that pesky 2000lb elephant…

sanborn121

November 27th, 2009
3:49 pm

granted there are some disabled, but don’t you just love the grossly overweight young people coming in and out of wal mart?

Teach08

November 27th, 2009
5:36 pm

I graduated from Kennesaw State back in 07. At the time, it was required that every student pass Fitness for Life. I never heard anyone complain about it.

CC

November 27th, 2009
9:57 pm

Are you kidding me? Why don’t the people at this college target blondes with blue eyes, or Jews, or women with A on their chests? Yes, we have an obesity epidemic…but why not mandate all people to take this class? BMI is NOT the only indicator of unhealthy lifestyles. This is yet one more way to discriminate against a group of people who don’t fit the mold.

concerned

November 28th, 2009
7:18 am

A good idea poorly executed. Just make the class mandatory for ALL students and leave it at that. Colleges, especially private ones, can mandate whatever curriculm they desire, and guess what…folks who don’t like it don’t have to go to that particular school. However, since we live in a “sue the pants off everyone and take no responsibility for my own actions” type of society, the schools need to be doing whatever they can to prevent being sued because the class was too far across campus for the unhealthy lifestyled person to walk without possible coronary effects.

Again, the class should be mandatory for ALL students. And I’m really tired of hearing about something like this AFTER the fact. This class was offered 4 years ago. Now because they refused to take the test, and probably got worse with poor eating habits and the effects thereof, now they want to cry foul; can’t have it both ways people.

catlady

November 28th, 2009
8:07 am

Is this a joke? An administrator at a predominately black college with the name “DaBoy?”

On this, we could have special classes required for smokers, fornicators, those with asthma, sickle cell, high cholesterol, those who don’t get enough calcium, those who dance poorly, etc, etc.

Give me a break.

Ole Guy

November 28th, 2009
1:35 pm

CC, it’s not about discrimination. Some people require no help in locating the bar; others, unfortunately, far too many, like mules, need to be led to the water holes.

Leadership, like that nasty-tasting med, can be, and often is, viewed with disdain. Too many, otherwise well-informed, will view this type direction as an attempt in generating a non-thinking obedient peoples. Nothing could be further from reality. The university leadership who decided to deny graduation to those who displayed a complete lack of self-discipline and self-control in allowing their BMIs to rise to such levels is to be commended for their initiative. Given that 1) their decision is probably on shakey legal ground, and 2) not all weight problems are “self-induced”…they, nonetheless, brought to public light a growing social problem which has been ignored far too long.

Often-times, truth and reality hurt, so the human tendency is to ignore the on-going reality. After the “explosion”, everyone will be up in arms shouting “why didn’t someone do something”? This university leadership did exactly that.

SAMI2006

November 28th, 2009
10:46 pm

I applaud the university for taking this step. And it was taken over 3 years ago so now these people are going to cry about it. You could have transferred to another school if you wanted to.
Obesity and diabetes is killing our economy with health care costs. Be patriotic, put down the doughnut and lace up the shoes and go for a walk.. Help save our country from the coming suffocating healthcare bill……and YOURSELF. Lost my father to obesity and diabetes. Close issue to my heart.

Samantha

November 29th, 2009
4:54 am

Personally, I’m appalled with this new policy.
Two out of three Americans are obese, and you know what? I don’t give a shit. What concerns me is the hype surrounding it. Our culture has become grossly obsessed with weight, and the nonstop focus on overweight citizens isn’t helping. Every day, Americans are reminded that being fat indicates a lack of discipline, whereas being thin means just the opposite. Discipline is supposed to play a huge role in success, and if success is supposed to significantly shape our happiness, we better not even think about eating dessert. Brainwashed, we identify our chance of accomplishment and sense of self-worth by a number on the bathroom scale.
Perhaps the supervisors of Lincoln University do not intend to support the notion that thinner is better, but that’s exactly what they’re doing. It would have been one thing if nutrition and fitness courses became a prerequisite for every student attending, but they singled out the overweight students, and if for whatever reason those who qualify for the class don’t want to take it, they will not be allowed to graduate. In other words, they cannot move up to the next level in life, and those kinds of consequences have the power to cause plenty of them to associate personal advancement with lower body mass.
I know from personal experience what it is to believe that you have to be thin before you can do anything else valuable. It is possible to hate yourself so much that you will begin to channel it into the way you live, and specifically, the way you eat. Thin people are idolized in this country. In 1996, it was reported that the diet-related industry rakes in over $40 billion a year, and in 2003, the National Eating Disorders Association revealed that the number of anorexic females between the ages of 15 and 19 has steadily increased with each decade since 1930, while the number of bulimic females aged 10 – 29 has tripled between 1988 and 1993. I think it’s fair to assume a connection. Lincoln University officials may be attempting to “address the obesity epidemic head-on” with its new exclusive curriculum, but in turn, they are flat-out ignoring the harmful, and often fatal, health effects of negative self-image.

Sarge

November 29th, 2009
8:22 pm

Sam, I couldn’t agree more on the issue of health effects relative to self-image, however, I’m convinced that the university leadership has done the right thing in establishing a “point of departure” insofar as health awareness is concerned. Dinasaurs, like myself, will recall an era when physical education was a staple of American, both within the school and the neighborhood. Quite possibly, the early stumblings of initiatives, such as that demonstrated at Lincoln, may someday lead to a restoration of physical health and awareness throughout our Nation. Will some of the social costs you mention be exacerbated? In the short run, probably so…however, given the stats you have quoted on eating disorders, one would feel that we had better start somewhere.

Roekest

November 30th, 2009
9:06 am

It’s scary to hear people calling this a “good idea”. It’s a good idea to loose weight. It’s NOT a good idea for an institution to mandate that people loose weight……….or else. It’s a personal choice, not the government’s.

You Sheeple are just waiting for the gov’t to tell you how to live your lives, aren’t you? Pathetic automotrons. Start thinking for yourselves before you let the government strip you of all your freedoms (like the freedom to recycle or the freedom to only shop at Whole Foods). God, you people make me sick…..

Eat2live

November 30th, 2009
9:48 am

@Roekast, you live to complain about the government. Give it a rest already.

@Samantha, shut your pie hole!

Roekest

November 30th, 2009
3:09 pm

Typical Liberal response: go for the insult instead of using a well-thought argument. And you people see yourselves as more enlightened than conservatives…….. Now THAT’S irony.

HB

November 30th, 2009
4:17 pm

This is ridiculous. Weight is not the only indicator of good or poor health. For that matter, BMI isn’t even the only indicator of what is a healthy weight — athletes often have a high BMI because their muscle mass gives them a high weight to height ratio. If the university is concerned with health ed, then they should consider it a priority for ALL students, not just those who are currently overweight, and mandate the course for all. Emory, for example, requires 4 semesters of health and fitness courses as part of the core curriculum. Their focus is on emphasizing a healthy lifestyle for all students, rather than on judging student health based on only one indicator.

Tony

November 30th, 2009
5:15 pm

There are so many other more productive ways this university could spend its time and energy. It is scary to think that we are coming very close to legislating against obesity. Liberty is dying a slow death in our nation and many of us are just sitting back watching for its last breath.

live.love.eat.

November 30th, 2009
7:19 pm

@roekest Please don’t just use “liberal” as an offensive term (this goes the same for “republican” or “conservative”) you are just being stereotypical. I dont mean to pick on you but its “lose” not ‘”loose” sorry. However, I do agree that institution shouldn’t have made it mandatory. It was a nice idea, but it was poorly executed. We all learn from mistakes.

Lauren H.

December 3rd, 2009
4:05 pm

While Rowley brings up a good point that BMI isn’t the only indicator of overall health or quality of life, I strongly believe that college is a great time to develop and hone important fitness and wellness habits. I think students should have more options to complete the fitness and wellness requirement, instead of having to fulfill a class requirement. University recreation centers have multiple facilities, programs, and events that students can use to lead healtier lifestyles.
Encouraging students to participate in intramural sports, group exercise classes, or walking incentive programs can have social, emotional, and psychological benefits in addition to physical benefits.

Chula

December 17th, 2009
10:59 am

Has anyone been watching the Biggest Loser series? These brave individuals have taken us step by step through their transformation. Without the support and deep concern of their coaches, who refused to except their excuses, they would not have done the necessary things to lose weight and restore their health. However, before they crossed the line of apathy to gotta-do-something, they were sitting on the couch convinced there was nothing they could do about their situation. In this case, it is clear they first had to agree to participate, then endure the pressure. It seems we all agree obesity is certainly interwoven with self image; as such, it can be a terrible cycle that seems insurmountable. Sometimes forcing a person to accept the truth, face it and do something about it is the only way to get a person to face the reality of their situation.