Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Pennsylvania college wrong to single out fat students for mandatory course

Lincoln College, an historically African-American college in Pennsylvania, has announced that any student must past a BMI (body-mass index) test in order to graduate. If according to the BMI, the student is 'obese,' then the student must go through a fitness course before graduating, and if they fail to finish the fitness course then they don't get a diploma.

I don't even know where to begin pointing out how stupid this is.

First, it is insulting to people who are, after all, adults. A college is in the business of providing education. It's not up to them to be the fitness czar for their students. And frankly this could be humiliating for a lot of people.

Second, BMI is a single number which in fact does not measure very well what kind of shape a person is in. I guarantee you that the majority of players in the NFL have a BMI which would classify them as 'obese,' but they are not out of shape at all.

Third, the presumption here is that if a person is overweight then it is a fitness issue. But it may not be. It might be an issue involving metabolism, disease or genetics. There are a lot of reasons why people are overweight, and in some cases exercise might even make things worse (such as if the person has a disease which also puts stress on their heart.)

Fourth, if we do this then how far does this go? Will they require that smokers go through a smoking cessation course before they can graduate? If someone gets a parking violation on campus will they have to go to driving school? If someone studies a lot will they be required to attend a course on stress release? Will joggers have to take a course on proper podiatric care? Are they going to make students provide proof that they have gotten all their prescriptions filled? I mean, there are a lot of ways people can risk their health, and once you begin with this you may be opening a Pandora's box. Keep in mind too that this is a college that is making this requirement, not even a health agency (though I'd be against it if it were a health agency too.)

I understand that obesity is a problem, especially in the African-American community which this college serves but if the people in charge of the college want to do someting about it how about providing more physical education or nutrition courses and information that will be available to all students, but mandatory for none?

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