Fit for class? Maybe not at Lincoln University
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.