Lose Weight or Don't Graduate

By , SparkPeople Blogger
A handful of college students slated to graduate this spring may not be getting their diplomas after all. And it isn't because they did not meet their academic requirements to graduate, but because they failed to take a class to help them lose weight and get fit.

In 2006, Lincoln University, an institution just an hour's drive southwest of Philadelphia, established a new graduation requirement for the class of 2010--those entering the university with a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or greater would be required to take a "Fitness for Life" class before graduation or risk not graduating. The class meets three times a week for a semester where students participate in aerobic activities, learn about nutrition and other healthy lifestyle habits.

As many of us are fully aware, we have an obesity problem in this country. But should universities and colleges initiate such drastic measures to force their students to lose weight and get healthy? Basically telling these students, lose weight or risk not graduating, even if you exceed academically.

As a parent to a senior in college, I am paying for her to get an education in academia. I am not paying for the university to deem my daughter unhealthy based on a flawed and archaic means of determining one's health and fitness--the body mass index. Studies have shown that the body mass index is not accurate for many, especially younger individuals, as the BMI cannot distinguish between fat and lean body mass. According to Michigan State University professor of kinesiology and epidemiology, Dr. Jim Pivarnik, "BMI should be used cautiously when classifying fatness, especially among college-age people.”

In all fairness, Lincoln University did make it known to their incoming freshman class three years ago that if they failed to meet the BMI guidelines and did not take the required class, their graduation could be deferred. I believe three years was more than enough time for these students to get busy and lose the weight or take the class.

However, I still wonder why an institute for higher learning is basing a student's graduation eligibility on a number that is still up for debate as to its accuracy. To use the BMI as the sole benchmark for measuring health seems a tad unfair.

My biggest question would be, why isn't this class a requirement for every student? What about the smoker who may have a normal BMI yet indulges in a very unhealthy habit? What about the underage drinker or the student who eats a high fat, high sodium diet yet still has a healthy BMI? These students are all exempted from taking the class even though their habits are just as, if not more so, unhealthy as those carrying around a few extra pounds.

When I attended college over 25 years ago, EVERY student, regardless of their degree plan, was required to take 4 hours of physical education classes, whether it was a golf, tennis, swimming or even a dance class. You had to take and pass the class to graduate. Each class counted as one credit hour with the final grade being factored into our GPA.

And this is what I feel Lincoln University is missing--they are isolating a faction of students when they should require ALL students to take the class. All students could greatly benefit by learning how to integrate healthy habits into their lives now before they get so engrossed that it becomes more difficult to change. Health cannot be measured by numbers alone, but by the choices we make and the knowledge we gain from others .

How do you feel about a university making such requirements? Would this be a bigger issue if this university was a public institution setting these standards? If the students knew the consequences of not losing weight or taking the class, do they have a still have a valid complaint with the university?

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Lmao listen if you're as big me? In the 400+ pound range? Maybe. But even so forcing it on a young person is going to make the idea of fitness repellent. But! Having optional classes for creating realistic healthy meal plans on a college student budget would be amazing. Kids would think they're learning a "lifehack" and be much more susceptible to suggestion than if you forced them. Report
What an interesting topic! I think health class should be required for everyone, as well as physical education. As far as not letting people graduate, I think they mean well, but ultimately it is unfair. They have earned their diploma, let them have it! College costs so much, I do not think they should make it more expensive or time consuming to only a few people. And when you have to spend more time in college, you have to spend more money. That's not fair! Report
I don't think it's up to the university to make this a requirement. This should be included in a health class that is required in high school. College students are considered men and women they should know this information by the time that they get there. What they do with it is up to them. Report
IMHO, a college/university should NOT be instituting this requirement to all students. They can recommend it, and maybe give a tuition discount for those that participate and "graduate" from the program. a person's BMI (which i agree is archaic and stupid for the general population) has nothing to do with his/her ability to learn a course of academic classes for a degree. Report
I agree. It should be a requirement for ALL students and not just a few. And they should incorporate a bit more expertise in how they go about it. If BMI is not accurate for all, they should find a system that is proven more accurate for everyone. If college is "supposed" to prepare you for the real world, this could fall right in with adding personal finance as a necessity. Another thing they don't teach in school. Report
I don't see a problem with this. No one is requiring that the students in question lose weight, just that they take a class. Given that they had several years to fit it into the schedules I don't see that as burdensome. Yes, it would be great if it were required of all students but I think the author is making a mountain out of a grain of sand. Lighten up! Report
These students have a choice whether or not to attend this university, no one is forcing them to enroll there. They were aware of the requirements long before graduation rolled around. I think this is a non-issue, just an interesting gimmick that one university is using to set itself apart from others. Report
Its a private college and it can make what ever requirements that it wants that don't violate discrimination laws. They had fair warning-if they didn't like it they could choose or transfer to another school. Report
Cafeterias need to have lots of healthier options. I think that is key. But telling somebody they cannot graduate is too much. Report
Yes, I agree it's not fair. But beyond the unfairness, there is something else.

My college years were my most active. I'm sure that those Freshman 15 that I gained were due to the open flat fee meal plan my college had plus the wonderful variety of food to choose from. I didn't even fill up on soda at every meal like some of my friends (nor was I binge drinking). No, I could suddenly have as much orange juice or apple juice as I wanted to drink, which was not the case as I was growing up. And we all know how many calories juice has when you're drinking it in 12 ounce increments. I thought I was making a healthy choice of beverage. Not to mention all the other food choices.

I was eating enough calories that they were not counteracted by the thousands of steps I was walking back and forth across campus. I'm sure that 10,000 steps was probably a daily minimum. Yet at the beginning of my senior year, I suddenly found that I'd gained 30 lbs since graduating from high school. I wasn't 30 BMI yet, but the habits had been made. I saw a dietician, changed my behavior, and lost 15 pounds. Then I graduated (and discovered the wonders of gaming online). I got a desk job. Evenings were spent in from of the computer. The next time I blinked, I'd gained 25 lbs. Lost some. Gained more. About 10 years after graduating from college, I hit that 30 BMI.

Under the Lincoln plan, I wouldn't have had to take the class. But it would've been immensely useful, especially to take it as a freshman.

You look around a college campus and you see all the incredibly fit bodies running around, venti caramel mochas with whip cream in hand, etc. Their metabolisms haven't slowed yet. They're still putting hours of activity in. (I guess that just running between classes and dorm/cafeteria probably racked up 4 miles/day for me those many years ago without any side trips and doesn't count the lugging of a backpack full of books, etc.)
Then boom. Graduation coincides with a metabolism drop for many. You get a full time desk job. Add commuting time. Add stress (I thought I knew what stress was as a student, but that was nothing compared to modern job downsizing stress). Those kids who never gained an ounce, never had a problem with weight, never thought they'd have a problem with weight, never thought they needed to learn how to not gain weight...Weight becomes a problem. Maybe not all of them, but I would think most of them.

This is a class that needs to be required for everyone. Life Skills. Start in elementary school with the simple concepts. Add to it in middle school. Add to it more in high school. Add to it even more in college. Stress Management would be very important in the high school and college class. But the very underlying concept of all would be Cause and Effect, which is something I notice a lot of kids not understanding as of late. This behavior (overeating/eating junk/being a couch potato) leads to weight gain, which increases risk of disease. The simple concepts that even teen athletes may not realize. When you’re no longer on the basketball team, the track team, the cross country team or whatever team that the training that made it so you could eat 8000 calories a day and burn it all, you need to change your eating habits and drop the amount of calories you're eating. I know that it would not make it so everyone stayed fit and trim, but maybe it would slow the weight gain and reverse the trends a little. Make a light at the end of the tunnel that isn’t a train.

But here is a little hope for the future: One of my coworkers recently took his 8 year old son hiking. The response once they were out in the middle of the forest? “This is WAAYY more fun than playing Xbox!”
Wow. This is appalling. Yes, there is room for a class that educates students about healthy living -- but to prevent students from graduating without it??? I would suspect this will discourage overweight students from applying to the school. What is their mission --to graduate students with an education or to graduate people with a normal BMI?

I would even support a mandatory health education and fitness class in the name of well roundedness, but to not graduate a student based on their BMI? -- That absolutely crosses the line into a bias that has no place in an educational institution. Report
I agree that this "healthy lifestyle" class should either be mandatory for all or for none. I also hope the university practices what it preaches. When I took the nursing program we had a "healthy lifestyle" class just before lunch. We then had 10 minutes to make it to our next class. Not quite enough for a "healthy" lunch, and we were not allowed to eat in class. Result? Most students swung by the vending machines and scarfed down a bag of chips on the way to the next class. Report
The board members who voted for this requirement should do research on how little good "nagging" does in regards to "curing addictions". Report
I am absolutely against this narrow minded way of thinking. This is far from requiring every student to take a phys ed class. This is discrimination in a very nasty form. Do they have programs and strict rules for binge drinkers? How about for the students using drugs, smoking, eating disorders, various forms and degrees of mental health issues? Schools having healthy choices in cafaterias, cafes and vending machines....YES! Telling an academically secure student that they can't graduate because they are too fat.....Ludicrous....
This really hits my hot button....you can tell ;) Report
College isn't a bad place to have a class on healthy living - since this is a time young adults are transitioning from a more regimented life to living on their own. I remember being scared about jobs and money and family, etc. and didn't take time to think how my lifestyle choices were affecting my health. A class about health would have been good. But it definitely isn't appropriate to single out one health issue when so many affect our young adults and certainly not to single out only a portion of the student population to take the course. Everyone has something to learn! Report
This class should be mandatory in high school or perhaps even middle school with a follow up more extensive class in high school. By the time a child reaches college age, he's already developed life threatening habits that are much harder to break. Kudo's to Lincoln University for trying something (which is better than nothing), but shame on this our education system for not thinking health and wellness is as important to the human brain as math or science. Oh yes, I do agree if the University is going to offer the class as a requirement for graduation, it should be required for all students. Just because someone is not overweight does not mean they are knowledgable about living a healthy lifestyle nor does it mean they'll know how to pass that knowledge on to their children (should they elect to have kids someday)! Report
When I was a freshman in college, we all had to take one full year of PE classes (more could be added as electives). I couldn't swim, and had to take, and pass, a beginning swim class. Accomplished swimmers could take the swimming test and place out of the class. I don't think you should be able to graduate college without knowing the basics of good nutrition and exercise. I think ALL students should either have to take a test demonstrating this knowledge, or have to take the class. Requiring that only overweight students take the class ignores the many other lifestyle and nutrition issues facing college students--inadequate sleep, drinking, irregular eating schedules, reliance on fast food, anorexia and bulimia, etc. Report
I think education should not only be for the intellect but also for the body. Shouldn't colleges prepare for life? ,-)The process should be a wholesome one. But the trigger BMI is for me a wrong one. The idea of the classes of healthy eating and physical education is a lot better. Not just "Do it" but more the "how do you do it". Report
I thought that graduating was to do with your intelect and mind - not your body size!! Am I wrong? Report
There are many other issues in America other than obesity so unless the college plans on addressing every problem then it is a little silly to take on only overweight students.. A person can be unhealthy, unfit, have bad habits and/or addictions and not be "overweight". I do not thing it is a bad idea to make a class like this mandatory in college for everyone due to the facts that exercise helps with self esteem and depression and that could really make a difference in a lot of lives. Report
I think the idea is good but misguided. I like the idea of the class being required for all incoming freshmen, but I strongly disagree with the BMi requirement for graduation. it is simply ridiculous and I believe a complete violation of the rights of the student.
With the legend of the "freshman 15" weight gain, all students have something to learn about proper nutrition and fitness. It is also important that they learn about healthy livingm tackling issues such as smoking and drinking. If the school decides to award a special cord or sash for those who make the BMI requirement then they should go ahead but I dont believe any student should be barred from graduation because of weight. Report
As the parent of a college grad and one child still in college, I find this offensive. This is similar to a sin/hate tax. It has nothing to do with the student's academic achievement. If they want to encourage healthy lifestyles in their schools, they should offer only healthy foods. They can also encourage fitness on campus. They should not single out individuals. Most of us will have a weight issue at some point in our lives and we have the intelligence to do something about it. Report
Wow, that's just unbelievable! I wonder how that's working out for them? My goodness, these students are paying for a college education and are being told if they're too fat they won't graduate. I understand the reasoning behind it, but the way they're going about it is just ridiculous. College can be stressful enough without having the added stress of knowing you won't graduate if you're too fat. I think maybe if they made it a program requirement that included ALL students (smokers, drinkers etc.) and possibly give credit toward graduation upon completion of program, then they'll have better success and a healthier student body. Not just focus on the obese students. Report
I think if they are aware of the requirements to graduate before they apply to the school it is a very good idea. Report
WOW, this is shocking! Our society continues to blur the lines of what is the role of institutions. In this case the role of a college is to provide the education that is being paid for! Yes obesity is an issue but in a country that values freedom it is the job of the individual to address thier own issues and needs not the role of a college, the government, the lady down the street, etc to mandate what one must do. But one must be smart, they did set the guidelines out ahead of time so the simplest solution is pick a different school, if the college's enrollement drops they will change thier policy. Report
I am all about promoting fitness and health. But I am not all about not allowing people to graduate because of their weight. Granted these individuals were given three years, this is something you have to do on your own time, not on someone elses' clock. The individuals probably felt pressured, and overwhelmed, and therefore didn't succeed. I could see making the class mandatory, but making a BMI mandatory for graduation is just horrible. Report
My college required all students to pass a swimming test to graduate. I didn't take it but graduated anyway. But the agriculture professor said it best. He didn't mind his students having to learn to swim as long as all the PE majors had to learn to breed pigs. College is about academics, and unless the college monitors all unhealthy behaviors, it shouldn't require this class prior to conferring a degree. Report
I think this is an excellent idea-hopefully more schools will follow suit! The students and parents had 3 years warning-if they didn't like it, go somewhere else. Although BMI isn't the most accurate method, by choosing such a high number (30), you're either a competitive bodybuilder/weightlifter/athelete, or obese/overweight. I do agree it should apply to everyone (regardless of BMI) and encompass other unhealthy behavior, but at least it's a start. We need to quit coddling and creating excuses. Report
This is completely wrong. Earning a degree should have nothing to do with your weight. Let's single the over-weight people out and make them feel even worse about themselves. Way to go....not! Complete discrimination. Report
I think this is horrible! Colleges and Universities are already stressful enough without putting more on top of that person's scale. I went back to get my degree after my last set of twins were born, and it was stressful enough. There should not be an extra boulder to the requirment of getting the degree one is pusuring. Report
No. There are too many college students with psychological issues. I could make an argument for anyone to be mandated to take a class. Regardless, this shouldn't be a college thing. This should happen in high school. This is why people hate their undegrad. Report
the "fitness for life" class to me is a good thing BUT there is an african proverb that says a person can eat his/her own meal like a thief i.e as if it was stolen. the school is trying to do a good thing but are going about it in a bad way.
fitness for life should be a course for everyone. its shouldnt be restricted to people with Bmi's above 30. some people with bmi's above 30 live healthy lives while some people with bmi's below live very unhealthy lives. the course should be a general course as it is beneficial to everyone Report
I agree with those that are saying it should be everyone or optional. I went to a university that had a requirement that every student had to take a fitness class during their time at school. The class covered basic weight training, basic cardio workouts, and also had a class session that talked about proper diet and ways to take your blood pressure and so on. The point of the class was to learn how to make good choices because you wanted to not because you were forced to. They also had a test at the begining to show your running ability/walking abilty when you started and then we took another one at the end of the class to see how far we'd come. It really was a useful class but EVERYONE had to take it in one way or another. The class was divided up so you had the course which was all the book nutrition stuff and then you had a lab for that class which was all the actual physical activity. Now not everyone took it exactly the same way. Those that were nutrition majors, biology majors, or nursing majors didn't have to take the book section because they got it all in their normal classes. The ROTC students didn't have to take the physical part because they were already doing lots of it for their training plus they were required to work out extra by their commanding officers. This being said everyone took at least part of it and was already learning the other part in normal classes. It's good that they want to help their students but I really don't think it's good to make those that are suffering from a weight issue feel like they are in some way different from the rest of the people on their campus. I also agree with everyone that says just because you have a lower BMI doesn't mean you are doing healthy things. I mean I knew some of the skiniest girls that ate more junk food than I could ever eat and yet I was the heavy one eating salads and they were the skinny ones eating all kinds of fried food. Report
I think they have good intentions, but...

...what they're doing is not only misguided, it's wrong. I agree with other commenters that say it's a discriminatory practice.

First, it makes the assumption that everyone with recommended BMI is making positive choices, and everyone who doesn't have the recommended is making poor choices. What about people with glandular issues? What about those with larger frames? What about people who are genetically predisposed to being overweight? Some people can understand and make all the right choices and still not have an "ideal" BMI.

Second, while I like the idea of promoting "whole body health," a person's weight or health has nothing to do with their academic success. A person can be obese and still extremely intelligent, still extremely successful in the workplace, and still a valuable contribution to society. It's within a college's role to teach people to take care of themselves, but NOT in their role to *require* them to.

And finally, living a healthy lifestyle for any extended period of time usually requires the internalization of your goals. I don't believe HAVING to lose weight in order to pass school will lead to adequate internalization. Doing something because you HAVE to, and doing something because you WANT to lead to two very different mindsets. I think it will be much harder to sustain the healthy lifestyle choices that are essentially forced on you than those you choose for yourself. Report
I think everyone should be required to take the class and they should be informed before they start school that it is a requirement. That way the student could make the choice of whether they want to go to the school or not. Who is to say that someone who has a higher BMI is healthy or not? You can't say what is healthy and what is not by BMI. It doesn't include gender, age, or muscle mass. Report
Unreal!!! Isn't this discrimination? If you can't hire and fire based on weight, how can you withhold an academic diploma? Granted, the students knew the expectations for graduation, but how can a university justify this? Better yet, why would these students still choose to attend and pay out the big bucks to this school. Report
So...what about the bulimic and anorexic BMIs? They don't matter?

I feel it would be more productive to have everyone take the course or make it an option. Plus, like they said....BMI isn't usually accurate for college students.

How sad to pay to be called fat when all you wanted to do was be educated. Report
It is discrimination. However, it's great that a college wants to help. Report
I shared this on Facebook, I was so angry about this article - which I read through Yahoo news first. It is flat out discriminatory and I'm shocked that this is allowed. Weight is the last discrimination that people are legally allowed to do and it has to stop. There are many reasons why people are overweight and not all is due to overeating and inactivity. Many folks are like myself, we have health issues or we take medication that creates weight gain. I am really sick and tired of being discriminated against simply because I have extra weight. When I'm healthy (as my health issues flucuate) I can outwalk many so-called perfect weight folks. I can outlift in the gym, so called jocks. I may be overweight, I am at the same time a powerhouse of muscle when my health is at its prime. How dare a school hold back a degree because of weight - that is simply outragous!

By the way, when I was in college in my teens, I was thin. I was very thin. I was dealing with eating disorders. According to this article I would get my degree because I was thin. Forget that I wasn't healthy, that I didn't eat and that I worked out constantly - I was thin. If that's the only requirement, heaven help us. Thin doesn't necessary equal fit and healthy; overweight doesn't necessary equal unhealthy and lazy. Discrimination has no place in a school of higher learning. Report
I totally believe that if it is a requirement, it need to be one for everyone coming freshly to the university! I do not see how they can valuably segregate on a 30 BMI, a pre-requisite because one is overwhweight? how uncooth! Report
15 years ago when I attended the University of Wyoming - we had to pass 2 semesters of a physical education class. Anything from bowling to archery to basketball. I ended up taking a class every semester. It gave me a reason to work out and I learned some new sports. I support this for all universities. Report
The class is fine if push comes to shove, however, when you go to college, it is to focus on your career. Taking classes which have no relationship to your future profession should not be required. I see it as a way for the school to pull more money out of parents, students or organizations who in this day and age, have a tough enough time stretching their dollar.

Is the course a good idea? I think yes, it should be offered, but not required. Furthermore, a school has no business requiring a student to meet certain physical criteria to graduate. It's an academic institution! How many in the faculty fall within the BMI guidelines that the school requires of the students? Report
Nah...not a good idea IMO. I agree it mistakenly asserts that only people with a certain BMI are healthy/unhealthy, disregarding all the other things that influence a person's overall health. There are plenty of cute little size 0 hotties and washboard abbed young men running around college campus' with drug/alcohol/unsafe sex lifestyles...no one's asking them to take a closer look at their unhealthy habits or risk not graduating. Report
I don't think requiring the class is the problem. It seems to be a remedial class like one for the math-challenged--helping to instill useful skills that were missed earlier. From the description, it seems to be an academic class--addressing with information and practice issues of ignorance--surely a university's responsibility--BUT, if the grade depended on actually losing weight--there would be the real problem, because, desperate to graduate, a student could adopt all sorts of unhealthy behaviors, which, however temporary, could affect her/his health, both short- and long-term.
As a college prof., I know the powerful incentive of earning a passing grade (let alone graduation!) but if the grade depends on achieving a healthy BMI, rather than demonstrating that one understands both the problem and its solution, then the motivation is wrong, and the dangers outweigh the benefits (sorry for the pun). Report
I'm feeling like this IS discriminating. That said - wouldn't it be better offer an incentive for taking it rather than penalizing someone for not taking it. Report
Basic health and Fitness for Life were required of everyone when I was in college. Even thin people need fitness and a basic healthy lifestyle. So I'm in favor of the classes, but not in a discriminatory way. I think they're general education for everybody. Report
I do think that ALL students should be required to take a basic health habits and fitness class......passing should be based on passing WRITTEN tests, as not all students have the same physical abilities (what about people with severe asthma, for example?) I am not sure that they shouldn't have one class required per year, even. And definitely, starting this in at least high school would be good. DO remember that just because they have heard something does not mean they will DO it though. Health habits can be encouraged, but forcing, especially to a one size fits all, simply isn't workable. THAT would be discrimination.
Though it is discriminatory, I think that all students know the rules at the outset. If they don't like the rules then they should find another educational institution.
That said, like many others, I think that all students should be required to take a phys. ed. class of some sort. If required for all it might make a difference. Report
This sort of class should be in middle or high school, it shouldn't wait 'til college. It wouldn't be a bad thing for it to be reinforced in college, though. So many of us are raised in homes where we're not taught (because our parents don't know) how to be healthy - if they're going to have basic requirements (General Education req.s), How-to-take-care-of-your-body 101 should definitely be on the list. It's just as - or more - important for a well-rounded Liberal Arts degree than, say, Math 101, that's for sure! Report
I applaud this university and wished in a very weird way when I went through college 12 years ago that they had had a program like this available tous. Maybe I wouldn't have gained the freshman 15 in 50 pounds and had learned a few new healthy life lessons instead of playing catch up now when the doc told me too. Wether or not they still hold this class. Make all students attend. I believe they could all benefit in some way from a bit of healthy learning. Report
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