In 2006, Lincoln University in Pennsylvania instituted a policy that students with a BMI of 30 or higher must take a “Fitness for Life” class. The students affected by this rule are now seniors, some of whom may not be able to graduate, either because they haven’t gotten their BMI tested by the university or because they have a BMI of 30 or higher and haven’t taken the class.
James DeBoy, chair of Lincoln’s health, PE, and recreation department, explains:
“This country’s in the midst of an obesity epidemic … We need to address this problem directly with our students. No student should ever be able to leave Lincoln and not know the risks of obesity.”
For reference, I’m 5’7″, around 160 pounds (which means I’m “overweight”, according to the BMI). If I hit 200 pounds, that puts my BMI at 30.5. I am now “obese,” and would be required to take the extra class in order to graduate. (Presumably, I’m also required to pay the university for the privilege.)
My God, what would these people do without the rest of us to remind them how fat and unhealthy and generally repulsive they are? It’s not like heavy people get smacked with this message every day.
The underlying assumption is that obesity is caused by a failure of willpower. People are fat because they’re lazy, gluttonous, or both. If they really wanted to, they’d lose the weight. Ergo, they’re fat because they choose to be.
In some cases, there’s truth here. When I switched from a job fixing computers throughout a six-story building to one where I sit at a desk all day, I gained weight. I could have added exercise to my life to make up for the walking I wasn’t doing anymore, but for a long time, I didn’t.
However–and this may come as a shock–people are different. Not everyone’s body works the same. I know people who eat healthy and play high-intensity racketball for 2-3 hours a night, 3-5 nights a week, but are heavier than me. My wife knows enough about dieting and healthy lifestyle to teach that Lincoln class, yet despite living a much healthier life than me, she struggles with her weight more than I ever have. But she’s the one who would be punished by Lincoln’s arbitrary policy.
Do the folks at Lincoln really think fat people haven’t picked up on the fact that society thinks they’re horribly unhealthy and undesirable? That’s not a problem. To pick one study, “[o]ver half of the females studied between ages eighteen and twenty-five would prefer to be run over by a truck than to be fat.”[1. Gaesser, Glenn A., Big Fat Lies. (2001).] (Emphasis added).
I’m sure Lincoln’s intentions were good. They’re trying to help people be healthy. Healthy = thin! Everyone must be thin! (By the way, an APA study found the death rate for eating disorders to be between 5 and 20 percent.[2. “Practice Guidelines for Eating Disorders,” American Journal of Psychiatry 150(2) (1993).] But at least they died thin!)
If you want to add a class on lifestyle and healthy eating, that’s one thing. Having seen what people pay for diets and weight loss programs, the class should fill up fast. But to force everyone with a BMI of 30 to take your class, or else they can’t graduate? Sorry, Lincoln. Your bigotry and ignorance are showing. Just ask the the Mayo Clinic:
“[O]verweight patients had better survival rates and fewer heart problems than those with a normal BMI. This apparently perverse result, drawn from data from 40 studies covering 250,000 people with heart disease, did not suggest that obesity was not a health threat but rather that the 100-year-old BMI test was too blunt an instrument to be trusted.” [3. “Body Mass Index (BMI) Badly Flawed.” http://www.preventdisease.com/news/articles/081806_bmi.shtml (2006).] (Emphasis added).
Can obesity be a health risk? Sometimes, sure. But if you think that gives us the right to judge, condemn, and punish everyone who doesn’t conform to our screwed-up ideal of human beauty? Well, I’m planning a mandatory logic class for everyone with an HUA (Head Up Ass) score greater than 30, and you just qualified.