Lincoln University Drops BMI Requirement

Compiled By Staff
December 8, 2009

A university's physical fitness requirement, which critics claimed discriminated against the obese, has been dropped.

Officials at Lincoln University, a historically black institution in Pennsylvania, agreed last week to make the course voluntary in a near-unanimous vote, reports the Philadelphia Inquirer. The course, called "Fitness for Life," had been mandatory for students with a body-mass index above 30, and the requirement caused an uproar at the school that attracted international media attention.

James DeBoy, chairman of Lincoln's health, physical education and recreation department, reluctantly offered an alternative proposal on Friday: Instead of the mandatory class, students taking a required freshman wellness course would be given a health risk assessment and invited to take a voluntary for-credit exercise course.

Throughout the controversy, DeBoy had urged college officials to maintain the requirement, but was quoted as saying in the Inquirer that the faculty was concerned about adding to obese people's "challenges, ridicule and jokes," particularly at a historically black institution.

"When you say discrimination," he told the Inquirer, "the emotional overlay rises up and blocks everything else. The term just overwhelms so many people, particularly those who have experienced it. It just rose up and prevented us from getting to the next layer--the prize--health and quality of life."

Ivory V. Nelson, president of the school, noted that the efforts to address obesity among African American students were praiseworthy.

"Your actions in 2006 to address the issue on this campus was the right thing to do," he was quoted as saying in the university's student publication, The Lincolnian, "What you all have done was courageous. Although, no matter what the good intent of something is, controversy can still occur."

DeBoy later said in an e-mail to Inside Higher Ed that he was satisfied with the outcome of the vote. "While the method may have changed," he wrote, "the learned outcome has remained constant: empower students with the requisite knowledge, skills, attitudes, and habits of mind to reduce/eliminate the ravaging effects of hypokinetic disease and their associated threats to both quality and quantity of life. We are not married to any particular method that accomplishes this end result. . .as long as that method delivers the targeted outcome in a manner that best serves the student."

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