Sorry, You’re Too Fat To Graduate

2009 December 7
by Grace Boyle

Can you imagine that successfully completing college and receiving your diploma could be dependent on the amount of pounds you’re packing, versus your level of intelligence or grades you worked for?

Some students at Lincoln University can.

Lincoln University in Oxford, Pennsylvania has instituted a fitness course, called “Fitness For Life.” The course meets three hours per week and is required for students with a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or above. If you are asked to be in the class (due to your BMI) and you don’t complete it, you cannot graduate. Ouch.

Speaking Out

One of the enrolled students at Lincoln, Tiana Lawson, age 21, wrote an honest editorial in the Lincolnian, their student run newspaper.

She asserts, “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 which, as a three-time honor student, is something I have been doing quite well, despite the fact that I have a slightly high Body Mass Index.”

11834504_3cc3c49559Photo Credit

Freedom of (Weight) Choice

I am all for fitness and health. Yes, obesity is a widespread problem. I mean, I live in Boulder (one of the healthiest cities in the U.S.) and my financial value is largely based on wellness. But you know why all that’s okay? Because it’s my choice.

Instituting a required fitness class, because of your BMI (a.k.a. you’re overweight and others aren’t, so they don’t have to join the class) at your so-called place of higher education, is crossing the line.

I recognize where the educators of Lincoln are coming from. They want to look out for their student body’s overall well-being and general health. The point where they’ve crossed the line is by targeting “obese,” “fat,” or “overweight,” students and leaving out the “healthier” ones, due to¬† their BMI.

Suggestions:

  • Include this fitness class for everyone. If you’re going to focus on health, spread the scope and testing beyond BMI. Think about those (regular) late night pizza runs or the traditionally gained, Freshman 15.
  • Offer fitness classes and focus on encouraging and increasing participation in extra-curricular activities e.g. rowing, running club, tennis, dodge ball, kickboxing, etc.
  • Integrate a health, dietary and general fitness practicum course for all incoming freshman and/or seniors. Give students a class they can draw dietary and cooking skills from that will be practical for their future and health.

The exclusivity of singling out specific individuals based on their weight isn’t fair. If they were on The Biggest Loser, sure, kick their ass in the gym, on their diet and make them work. However, this is a University (not a reality show) that is going about health and fitness in the wrong way.

Largely, students enroll in college to gain an education, learn, excel, grow and experience. The college years are a time of growth change, and challenge filled with insecurities and uncertainty of your adolescence to early-20’s. Don’t make the time worse by pointing the finger at student’s weight and then reprimanding them or not allowing them to graduate.

What do you think? Can you put yourself in the shoes of the students at Lincoln University? Would you have been able to graduate if your BMI was calculated at graduation time?

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  • http://restlesslikeme.com Norcross

    Personally, I don't see what all the outrage is about. And the headline (which I've seen in multiple places) is extremely misleading. This policy (instituted in 2006) simply requires a class be taken if your BMI is over a certain point. The affected students had 4 years to (a) get tested and (b) take the class. It isn't a last-minute 'gotcha' policy, and it doesn't require the student to lower their weight at all. Most schools have similar policies for students caught underage drinking, drug use, or remedial classes. Also, the school indicates that they wanted to make the class required for everyone, but the budget didn't allow for it.

    I understand that your lifestyle is a choice, and for some people it's a medical / genetic issue. But for a student to ignore the policy for 4 years, then raise hell over it is dishonest in my opinion.

  • Ali

    I agree with you Grace, that its not fair to single out a certain group of people based on their BMI. Health, Fitness, and Nutrition are all very important topics, and just because your BMI is below 30, does NOT mean that you are healthy. Yes it means you are not necessarily in an “at risk” group, but you could have a fast metabolism or be genetically small and eat mcdonalds 4 times a week. This is not healthy. This is actually a great concept that should be implemented elsewhere, but it should be mandatory for everyone, to increase heath awareness for the whole campus. I think that ultimately it should focus on the important of being healthy, exercise, nutrition and feeling comfortable in your own skin, not on a certain number on an index.

  • http://www.smallhandsbigideas.blogspot.com Grace Boyle

    @Norcross I appreciate your opinion, you bring up some very good points. Perhaps how I phrased it was through the 'gotcha' policy, although I know that's not their intent. Ignoring the policy for four years then becoming outraged obviously shows a lack of organization from a student's point of view. Yet, I understand why they're mad.

    I don't think your weight should affect a college degree. Plain and simple. If it's not in their budget to offer something to all their students, then I don't think they should single out students, especially because BMI isn't always the best factor in determining weight and health.

    Also, underage drinking and drug use is illegal, not like choosing a big mac over a salad.

  • http://www.smallhandsbigideas.blogspot.com Grace Boyle

    @Ali They ARE good topics, which is why they should offer courses in it or even try to push their weight / fitness classes for everyone. There are other ways to integrate this mentality, without singling people out and also maintaining their budget.

  • http://restlesslikeme.com Norcross

    Is BMI the best indication of health? Not at all. And the school has exemptions for this for people who's BMI isn't an accurate reflection. But the point I keep coming back to (other than the length of time they had to complete it) is school's statement that they feel they have an obligation to the students in these risk areas. To have a BMI over 30 isn't a trivial matter. And with so many high schools dropping physical education programs, this may be the first exposure they've had in years. And they get credit for it.

    As the article mentions (and we all know) obesity is a very big problem. While it may seem discriminatory, it has to be addressed. I'm glad at least 1 school is willing to do it.

  • http://twitter.com/cassie_holman Cassie

    If budget permits, perhaps the university could offer free health assessment, advice, counseling or training to interested students? Or the university could encourage students to take a health class as a “general credit” option? I understand the university's intent to be forerunner's in implementing healthy practices among students, however, a mandatory class based on weight seems a stretch to me, as well. I am a total health advocate and firmly believe people need to be educated on the risks of obesity and unhealthy lifestyles, however, there has to be a way that is less about singling out overweight students.

  • http://www.strawberryghetto.blogspot.com/ Mehnaz

    I agree with your assessment of offering the option to everyone.
    If we're going BMI, a lot of athletes have a bmi over 30.
    And there are plenty of thin people who are terribly unhealthy.

    If we're looking out for health, shouldn't we look out for everyone's health?

  • http://www.smallhandsbigideas.blogspot.com Grace Boyle

    @Cassie I agree with you. That's why I listed the suggestions (similar to yours) because I do believe in holistic health and know that obesity is no trivial issue. I had a problem with singling out certain students, as well. I suppose I'm an idealist and believe in equality. Just as @Norcross mentioned above, when they institute classes for underage drinking or drugs those are illegal activities that they have to enforce as a public institution, but eating poorly isn't illegal…

  • http://www.smallhandsbigideas.blogspot.com Grace Boyle

    @Mehnaz BMI is a poor choice to gauge health (exclusively, it should be mixed in). I'm wondering what my BMI is because I'm short, but have always been muscular and in shape. I know we can all become self righteous, but in this case, I don't think it was implemented properly. That's all I'm saying. Thanks for sharing :)

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  • http://www.opheliaswebb.com Elisa Doucette

    BMI is a horrible indicator of healthiness. When I played rugby in college (I was my healthiest ever) I was classified as severly overweight or whatever. I have a pretty athletic build, and become just dense muscle.

    I agree with the idea of what they are doing, but the way that they are singling people out is not the way to do it. My freshman year of high school our required gym class involved full on health and nutrition and wellness. We were graded at the end based on our upgraded fitness (# pushups, situps, pullups, mile splits, etc from beginning of class til the end) and our ability to plan out nutrition and wellness for ourselves.

    It was actually a great class. I learned a lot and the best part was that it wasn't based on how GOOD anyone was but moreso how we improved our own wellness and health.

  • http://tomaszgorecki.com/ thomas

    Isn't this a hate crime in the US now, discriminating against someone based on their weight?

    However, let me take a financially analysis to this. Does it make sense for the rest of taxpayers to be burdened with higher taxes. The taxes that are used to treat these “over weight individuals”. They use up more benefits and costs then the normal healthy person, so should we not strike a balance and limit?

  • http://exilelifestyle.com/ Colin Wright

    I'm a bit torn here.

    On one hand, yes it's wrong to pick out certain parts of the population and change the requirements of graduation just for that group. It means that group has to work extra hard and faces hurdles that others don't have to overcome.

    On the other hand, if the requirement existed before Tiana signed up, she already knew about the extra hurdle ahead of time and it would be her responsibility to choose or not choose the school based on this information. If it were forced on her after she already started going there, I could understand the frustration, but if she walked into the situation and then decided it wasn't fair when she couldn't keep up, I have a little less sympathy.

    But that's not the real issue. The meat of the story here is whether or not the obese segment of the world should have to complete extra classes while their comrades with lesser BMI readings go have a pizza break.

    Consider this: if the student being discriminated against were a smoker, not overweight, would most people have the same issue? If she were being encouraged to quit smoking rather than being encouraged to get in better shape, would there be such an uproar?

    I imagine not. There would still be muttering, but a classes telling people about the health risks of smoking have been around for a very long time, whereas classes about general health have not (or at least not everywhere). We as a society have begun to feel a bit more comfortable talking about weight, and this is on e of the results.

    'But Colin,' you may be saying, 'that's an unfair comparison. Smoking impacts everyone in the area, not just the smoker. The cigarette butts collect all over the sidewalks and roads, increasing the amount of litter, and the smoke itself is harmful to the environment and innocent passersby. Lame!'

    It is lame, but having a generally unhealthy lifestyle or diet can be even worse! The more a person consumes, the more waste they create, resources they use and other bad habits they perpetuate. Hell, people who lead overall healthy lifestyles (including eating healthily) are a LOT less likely to smoke, so yeah, two birds with one stone.

    Of course, the ACLU member in me wants to cry out 'Descrimination!' at any seeming violation of civil liberties, but when it comes down to it each and every school has the right to uphold whatever standards they hold to be important, and if one values health and wants to avoid the repercussions of having an unhealthy student body, I can't really blame them for making those positive changes.

  • http://jackieadkins.com Jackie Adkins

    I agree that the principle of teaching students good, healthy practices is one that his it's merit, but the execution here is definitely lacking. I'm sure that for students who had to take the class they saw it as something they were embarrassed to have to take, which probably creates more problems than it solves.

    This wouldn't be nearly as big of an issue had they made it a requirement for everyone.

  • http://www.smallhandsbigideas.blogspot.com Grace Boyle

    @Elisa I completely agree and I'm in the same boat as you. BMI doesn't indicate health and fitness. I do yoga, hike, kick boxing and snowboard year round and my BMI doesn't match my weight/height standard, so I would probably HAVE to take this course. Thanks for sharing, I like hearing everyone's opinion on this matter.

  • http://www.smallhandsbigideas.blogspot.com Grace Boyle

    @Thomas Interesting take with the financial analysis. If we get into our tax paying dollars, there are many things that I am dismayed to be contributing to so just over weight individuals is sort of the least of my concern. I do believe that everyone should take actions into their own hands. We can't always 'hand hold' everyone in their issues…which is why I think collectively, a weight or fitness class would be beneficial for everyone.

  • http://www.smallhandsbigideas.blogspot.com Grace Boyle

    @Colin Thank you for your eloquent response. You bring up some really good points and I like your comparison with smokers. As a society and culture, there's a largo taboo about weight. We aren't comfortable talking about it and those that are 'overweight' are quick to be defensive and hurt. I understand that. However, I do believe in taking action.

    My problem existed with only using BMI as a measure and singling out specific students. We don't talk about anorexia or bulimia or other health and weight issues that are equally as dangerous. It's a slippery slope to begin to include all the 'troubled' groups in society…

  • http://www.smallhandsbigideas.blogspot.com Grace Boyle

    @Jackie Lackluster execution, you've got that right!

  • http://exilelifestyle.com/ Colin Wright

    @Grace

    Yeah, I don't think there are any solutions that will make everyone happy at this point, but then, I don't think there are EVER any solutions that will make everyone happy for anything anywhere :)

    We do need a better measuring tool than the BMI if we want to make health a graduation-influencing issue. It's like IQ…we still use it to figure out whether or not people can get into MENSA, despite the fact that over and over it's been shown to be faulty, leave out certain segments of the population because of upbringing or race, etc.

    I guess all we can do at this point is try to build a better abacus and hope that we don't hurt too many people until we succeed!

  • http://www.smallhandsbigideas.blogspot.com Grace Boyle

    @Colin You are right. It's so hard to please everyone and instead of me just whining or jumping up and down about this particular issue, I opted for suggestions and options that other University's or even Lincoln U could consider. It's always a work in progress, that's for sure. Thanks for your insights :)

  • http://exilelifestyle.com/ Colin Wright

    I'm a bit torn here.

    On one hand, yes it's wrong to pick out certain parts of the population and change the requirements of graduation just for that group. It means that group has to work extra hard and faces hurdles that others don't have to overcome.

    On the other hand, if the requirement existed before Tiana signed up, she already knew about the extra hurdle ahead of time and it would be her responsibility to choose or not choose the school based on this information. If it were forced on her after she already started going there, I could understand the frustration, but if she walked into the situation and then decided it wasn't fair when she couldn't keep up, I have a little less sympathy.

    But that's not the real issue. The meat of the story here is whether or not the obese segment of the world should have to complete extra classes while their comrades with lesser BMI readings go have a pizza break.

    Consider this: if the student being discriminated against were a smoker, not overweight, would most people have the same issue? If she were being encouraged to quit smoking rather than being encouraged to get in better shape, would there be such an uproar?

    I imagine not. There would still be muttering, but a classes telling people about the health risks of smoking have been around for a very long time, whereas classes about general health have not (or at least not everywhere). We as a society have begun to feel a bit more comfortable talking about weight, and this is on e of the results.

    'But Colin,' you may be saying, 'that's an unfair comparison. Smoking impacts everyone in the area, not just the smoker. The cigarette butts collect all over the sidewalks and roads, increasing the amount of litter, and the smoke itself is harmful to the environment and innocent passersby. Lame!'

    It is lame, but having a generally unhealthy lifestyle or diet can be even worse! The more a person consumes, the more waste they create, resources they use and other bad habits they perpetuate. Hell, people who lead overall healthy lifestyles (including eating healthily) are a LOT less likely to smoke, so yeah, two birds with one stone.

    Of course, the ACLU member in me wants to cry out 'Descrimination!' at any seeming violation of civil liberties, but when it comes down to it each and every school has the right to uphold whatever standards they hold to be important, and if one values health and wants to avoid the repercussions of having an unhealthy student body, I can't really blame them for making those positive changes.

  • http://jackieadkins.com Jackie Adkins

    I agree that the principle of teaching students good, healthy practices is one that his it's merit, but the execution here is definitely lacking. I'm sure that for students who had to take the class they saw it as something they were embarrassed to have to take, which probably creates more problems than it solves.

    This wouldn't be nearly as big of an issue had they made it a requirement for everyone.

  • http://www.smallhandsbigideas.blogspot.com Grace Boyle

    @Elisa I completely agree and I'm in the same boat as you. BMI doesn't indicate health and fitness. I do yoga, hike, kick boxing and snowboard year round and my BMI doesn't match my weight/height standard, so I would probably HAVE to take this course. Thanks for sharing, I like hearing everyone's opinion on this matter.

  • http://www.smallhandsbigideas.blogspot.com Grace Boyle

    @Thomas Interesting take with the financial analysis. If we get into our tax paying dollars, there are many things that I am dismayed to be contributing to so just over weight individuals is sort of the least of my concern. I do believe that everyone should take actions into their own hands. We can't always 'hand hold' everyone in their issues…which is why I think collectively, a weight or fitness class would be beneficial for everyone.

  • http://www.smallhandsbigideas.blogspot.com Grace Boyle

    @Colin Thank you for your eloquent response. You bring up some really good points and I like your comparison with smokers. As a society and culture, there's a largo taboo about weight. We aren't comfortable talking about it and those that are 'overweight' are quick to be defensive and hurt. I understand that. However, I do believe in taking action.

    My problem existed with only using BMI as a measure and singling out specific students. We don't talk about anorexia or bulimia or other health and weight issues that are equally as dangerous. It's a slippery slope to begin to include all the 'troubled' groups in society…

  • http://www.smallhandsbigideas.blogspot.com Grace Boyle

    @Jackie Lackluster execution, you've got that right!

  • http://exilelifestyle.com/ Colin Wright

    @Grace

    Yeah, I don't think there are any solutions that will make everyone happy at this point, but then, I don't think there are EVER any solutions that will make everyone happy for anything anywhere :)

    We do need a better measuring tool than the BMI if we want to make health a graduation-influencing issue. It's like IQ…we still use it to figure out whether or not people can get into MENSA, despite the fact that over and over it's been shown to be faulty, leave out certain segments of the population because of upbringing or race, etc.

    I guess all we can do at this point is try to build a better abacus and hope that we don't hurt too many people until we succeed!

  • http://www.smallhandsbigideas.blogspot.com Grace Boyle

    @Colin You are right. It's so hard to please everyone and instead of me just whining or jumping up and down about this particular issue, I opted for suggestions and options that other University's or even Lincoln U could consider. It's always a work in progress, that's for sure. Thanks for your insights :)