Have you heard of Lincoln University? Perhaps you haven’t. Have you heard of the college denying diplomas to a portion of their senior class because they are obese? If you haven’t you will soon. To fill you in, Lincoln University, in Pennsylvania, implemented a fitness class as part of their graduation requirements. Many colleges have requirements for P.E. and health, there is nothing new or newsworthy there. What makes this different though is that Lincoln University’s “Fitness for Life” class is mandatory only for students with a BMI (body mass index) >30, only those who are obese. More than 20 of the obese students refused to take the class and will not graduate because of this.

I am a little torn on this one. On one hand, I commend L.U. for understanding the import of health and fitness. L.U. is a historically black college and there is a higher obesity rate among African-Americans and a host of potential health problems faced once obese. If college prepares you for life beyond college, it seems health education is a reasonable component. On the other hand, requiring running for the rotund seems to be a misstep. For one thing, the selection criteria is problematic because BMI doesn’t necessarily coincide with fitness. If the class is to achieve fitness proficiency, perhaps a measure of fitness should be used to decide who is in need of it. Students could be asked run or walk for a certain distance and those unable would then be enrolled in the class. However, if the purpose of a class is to improve one’s health every single student should be taking it. The skinny doughnut eater and the chain smoker undoubtedly could also use some help.

If we delve deeper into this, this “Fitness for Life” class ,which consists of water aerobics, Tai Bo and dance a few hours a week, it isn’t necessarily going to lay the groundwork for lifelong changes. I would propose a seminar. All students would be required to attend the seminar. These students, after all, are adults, they should hear the statistics about their weight and health and, let’s be honest, how their weight can impact interviews and prospective employers. Nutrition and fitness information can be presented in a user-friendly manner. I would even volunteer to teach the seminar and to be available, on an ongoing basis, to follow up.

Lincoln University is justified in viewing health as part of the future success equation. As the chair of Lincoln’s Department of Health and Physical Education said “we, as educators, must tell students when we believe, in our hearts, when certain factors, certain behaviors, attitudes whatever are going to hinder that student from achieving and maximizing their live goals.” Hopefully once the uproar dies down there can be further discussion over just how Lincoln and other schools can do this.

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