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University Requiring Course For Obese Students

Compiled by Yaffa Klugerman
November 20, 2009

A university's physical fitness requirement is causing an uproar on campus, with critics claiming that the policy discriminates against the obese.

The Chronicle of Higher Education reports that Lincoln University, a historically black institution in Pennsylvania, is requiring students who have a body-mass index above 30 to enroll in a course entitled "Fitness for Life" prior to graduating. Students are weighed and measured as freshmen and can be exempted from the course by dropping their BMIs to below 30 or by passing a sports course.

Students and professors at the school are objecting to the policy, reports the school's student publication, The Lincolnian. "What's the point of this?" asked one freshman. "Some students on campus are just confused why a certain BMI has to be a requirement. Are there not a sufficient amount of prerequisites to complete prior to graduating from college?"

Dr. Yvonne Hilton, a professor in the school's health, physical education and recreation department, was also skeptical. "I don't necessarily agree with the BMI being a requirement," she told The Lincolnian. "It is understood that obesity in America is growing fast, but maybe there should have been a different approach in informing the students about their health and building their awareness."

According to Inside Higher Ed, nearly a fifth of the freshman class that began Lincoln three years ago had BMIs of 30 or greater. Out of these 92 students, about 25 have not proven they have lost weight or signed up for the class. James L. Deboy, chair of the school's health, physical education and recreation department, contacted the students about the unfulfilled requirement earlier this month, which caused a stir that resulted in the Lincolnian article.

DeBoy maintained that the requirement is an important one. "This country's in the midst of an obesity epidemic and African-Americans are hit hard by obesity and diabetes," he told Inside Higher Ed. "We need to address this problem directly with our students."

He added in the Chronicle, "We as health educators are responsible for students' total well-being, not just academic and cognitive, but physical and social. If a student is being wheeled out on a stretcher at age 35 or 40, they will never be able to say, 'I wish someone had told me that this would happen.'"

Although the requirement is a unique one, other institutions have taken steps to combat obesity on campus as well. In September, the University of Houston announced that it would offer a course using a Nintendo Wii game system in an effort to attract students who otherwise would not sign up for more traditional physical education courses. Students taking the course learn basic principles of body nutrition and maintaining a healthy body weight, track their activities and monitor their calorie intake.

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