Fit for class? Maybe not at Lincoln University

November 21, 2009 at 8:21 am 5 comments

Lincoln University, the nation’s oldest historically black college and university (HBCU), mandates all undergraduate students to be tested for their Body Mass Index (BMI). Those who have a BMI greater than 30—i.e., students who are considered obese—are required to enroll in a weekly course called “Fitness for Life.” According to an AP news story, “the course involves walking, aerobics, weight training and other physical activities, as well as information on nutrition, stress and sleep.”

[University] officials said that the school is simply concerned about high rates of obesity and diabetes, especially in the African-American community.

“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 school’s student health policy, however, is causing an uproar on campus. In the university’s newspaper, for example, one student wrote, “I 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 a follow-up interview, this student said she objected to the fact that certain people were being singled out for their weight and suggested that all students should have to take the Fitness for Life course—not just those with a BMI that places them in the “obese” category.

From the AP story:

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.

Also, students need more than exercise, said Marcia Costello, a registered dietitian in the Philadelphia area. The university should make sure its dining halls and vending machines offer healthy choices, she said.

Costello, an assistant professor of nursing at Villanova University, also noted that body mass index can be misleading. Since muscle weighs more than fat, “it is possible to be overweight and still be physically fit,” she said.

I wonder if Lincoln University may be one of the earlier examples of institutions and organizations that eventually mandate targeted interventions for their employees and members who are deemed unhealthy. And I wonder if this is actually effective public policy.

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5 Comments Add your own

  • 1. jleeger  |  November 21, 2009 at 4:07 pm

    J.R., are you involved with Dr. Roberta Park over at Berkeley? She came to SFSU a couple of weeks ago and gave a talk about kinesiologists (physical educators) needing to take a more prominent role in the healthcare debate…if not, you should definitely go talk with her!

    Reply
  • 2. Lauren Alfrey  |  November 21, 2009 at 6:44 pm

    You should check out James Fowler’s work on social networks and behavior: http://jhfowler.ucsd.edu/

    He argues that network ties can influence the transmission of mental and physical states, such as happiness and obesity. In this discussion around universal v. targeted interventions, researchers should consider the role of networks in establishing reference points for normalized behavior. SNA studies have shown that an individual’s behavior may be most heavily influenced by the person who is one link away from them — the friend of a friend, or the colleague of a family member. These loose ties create normalized impressions of behavior. If your friend’s friend is obese, you might be more likely to adopt the behaviors associated with obesity such as a sedentary lifestyle or highly caloric food consumption. Following this line of argument, the WORST thing you could is isolate people who embody the same behaviors; their connections are then limited to people reinforcing the same “bad” behavior. If, however, your intervention can reconfigure relationship links, so that obese students are interacting with students who embody healthy lifestyle and eating habits, you may be more effective at combating obesity.

    Reply
  • 3. J.R. Atwood  |  November 23, 2009 at 4:49 am

    Josh! Thanks for the tip on Dr. Park. I’ll be sure to check out her research.

    Reply
  • 4. ceebee  |  December 4, 2009 at 9:34 am

    Unreal. The rules/requirements should be for everyone. Not for a specific class or target. That’s discrimination.

    Schools in general are just a joke and a waste of money. Schools are nothing but broken promises and dreams. They teach people nothing of real value. The only thing schools teach is how to be subservient under a “one world government”. No free thinking, no creativity, no independence in schools.

    Better off using the internet for learning and education. You learn a lot more than being inside the box. A degree/diploma is nothing but a piece of paper.

    Reply
    • 5. jleeger  |  December 4, 2009 at 5:20 pm

      Ceebee, as you point out, a degree is a lot more than “a piece of paper.” It’s a process of enculturation. It represents a lot of things – societal conformity, the ability to follow rules, but also dedication, persistence, and self-regulation…

      School is definitely imperfect, and needs to be improved, but it is not a joke or a waste of money. Money can’t be “wasted.” It’s a social construct (like the “promises and dreams” that you mention) that represents life-energy. As a social-construct, it applies to everyone in the society using it…whether you like it or not.

      Find a way to use it in ways that support your vision.

      Reply

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Jason R. Atwood

I'm an avid trail runner and doctoral student at U.C. Berkeley who studies motivation and the relationship between the mind and body. This blog is a forum to share research, news, and musings about these topics of interest. More

Play is the beginning of knowledge.

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