Lincoln University, a predominantly and historically Black institution in Pennsylvania, creates a course titled “Fitness For Life” back in 2006. Lincoln opts to make this a requirement for graduation for 2006’s incoming Freshman class… only if your Body Mass Index (BMI) is above 30 (a BMI beyond this is clinically classified as overweight. Go far enough beyond this, you are considered obese.) Lincoln’s faculty eventually votes to drop this requirement, sharing the following tidbit with the press:
The “Fitness for Life” course will now be recommended to certain students after they take a freshman-wellness course that is required for all students, James L. DeBoy, chairman of Lincoln’s department of health, physical education and recreation, said last night.
Next year, health faculty will assess freshmen students’ health on a number of criteria. They will then suggest the fitness course to those who need it most.
Firstly, I think we should get some very basic details out of the way. I think the entire idea sucks. The fact that only the clinically overweight have to take this course, the fact that the details denote that there’s very little-to-no nutritional aspects to this course, and the fact that the university was comfortable with forcing their overweight students to adhere to requirements the rest of their students did not… it all sucks.
And allow me to throw a little emphasis on that point about there being little-to-no nutrition education.
In the United States, the incidence of deaths resulting from heart disease is 30% higher for African Americans when compared to the white population. African Americans are twice as likely to be diagnosed with diabetes as non-Hispanic whites. Here comes a university with a majority Black population, creating a requirement for their [assumed-to-be majority Black] overweight population, and the focus isn’t on nutrition? Last time I checked, diabetes is MUCH more closely linked to poor eating habits than it is exercise. They’re putting band-aids on bullet wounds.
Now, where’s the discrimination, you ask? What does this have to do with skinny girls, you ask? Simple.
Why do we assume that only the overweight students should need this class? Because they’re fat? Because evidence of their poor health appears on their bodies? I know that might seem like a “Yes! Duh!” to some of you, but let me explain why it’s not quite that simple.
Have you ever been to something like a high school reunion, a Homecoming, or any event where you’re forced to have to deal with people you haven’t seen in a long time? You ever notice how many individuals have packed on the pounds since then? How many of those people were among the skinny when you knew them way back when?
Thus, the skinny girl’s dilemma. Being coddled and “praised,” for lack of a better term, for being thin. Being assumed to have all the tricks and tools to better health because she is thin. “The skinny kids don’t need to take the class… clearly they’re already healthy.” Um, not quite. Poor kids who can’t afford food grow up thin… only to indulge when they get the money to do so. Teenagers eat “like big giant pigs” because their body needs that energy to grow.. only to have found that they’ve developed habits that quickly lead them to being overweight. Kids who grow up in poor households – yet who live in middle class environments where the majority of girls are skinny – might stick their fingers down their throats to maintain the weight. Why? Because they can’t afford the healthy foods to maintain the weight naturally… they might not even know what classifies as “healthy foods.” High school and college athletes who are so active that they develop a habit of eating heartily graduate and forget everything they’ve ever learned. Need I go on?
Actually… I’ve got one more – in ALL of those instances… eating all the wrong foods – full of trans-fats, high on sodium, low on protein – can have damaging effects on our insides. You know, the things that can’t be seen or determined by BMI (and thus why the BMI is considered a poor standard of overall health.)
Making only the overweight kids take this course implies that they’re the only ones who need it. Do we take a lack of fat to mean that a person is healthy? Do we not care about health as long as the person isn’t fat? Lincoln passed up a valuable opportunity to teach their students about nutrition. They passed up the chance to teach how to make sure that students can develop healthier lifestyles and reap the benefits of such, which definitely include weight loss and proper weight maintenance. Instead, they chose to pander to societal standards of health… and societal perceptions about the thin and the overweight.
And honestly… 2/3rds of society – according to Lincoln’s logic – would need to take this course anyway… so really, is THAT the standard to use?
Not that my opinion matters any… but I’d challenge Lincoln to create a course that teaches not only how to exercise, but how to eat. How to enjoy life without “living to eat.” How to care for ourselves. How to properly gauge one’s eating habits. How to determine what’s getting in the way of them reaching their health goals. How to combat weight gain on campus. Do that, and share that information with everyone. Maybe then, they’d make the impact they originally set out to make in the lives of their students. All of them.