By Shaun Chavis
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A fairly new rule at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania has created quite a bit of buzz: Students with a body-mass index (BMI) over 30 have to take a fitness class in order to graduate. The rule was imposed in 2006, but now that the first class to graduate under that rule is due to turn its tassels, some students are challenging the fitness course requirement. Should colleges require you to learn fitness, nutrition, and weight-loss strategies?
Why not? The downside about Lincoln's rule is that this historically black university doesn't have the resources to require every student to take the Fitness for Life course. (Just because you're thin in college doesn't mean you're fit—nor does it mean you won't struggle with fitness and weight later in life.) Sixteen weeks of health and fitness education, as well as the opportunity to get personalized instruction, may help students reach their post-collegiate goals. Studies show that overweight and obese job candidates are often stereotyped as being lazy and lacking potential, and overweight and obese workers are paid lower salaries and given fewer choice opportunities. A fitness class can be a great tool for anyone about to launch a career. People pay $10,000 a month for similar weight loss, fitness, and nutrition classes and counseling at other institutions.
Lincoln is not alone in its fitness mandate: Every full-time student at Oral Roberts University, in Tulsa, is required to take a fitness class and a field test every semester. You have to admit the school's emphasis on fitness is a beacon of hope for people who work in public health or exercise physiology. Freshman-level fitness courses make sure every student gets basic health education. Every semester ends with a field test of a 2-mile run or walk, 5 miles of cycling, or an 800-meter swim. Students also have to earn fitness points every week and pass a swim test or take a swimming class before graduating. ORU's program is based in its philosophy of developing a balanced life that includes the body as well as the mind.
Ideally, if a student earns his weekly quota of fitness points, that student should graduate with an exercise habit that's as routine as brushing his teeth, with the potential of lasting a lifetime. And in fact, the school's Health, Physical Education and Recreation department claims that earlier studies show ORU's alumni are healthier than grads from other schools. (When I was a student there in the late '80s, one of the most popular rumors on campus was that the school's fitness requirements, along with the skirts-and-dresses code for women, got the student body ranked high for attractiveness by a popular men's magazine more than once. I'll leave that as a rumor, though, because I also knew quite a few students who fabricated their fitness points.)
Fitness for coeds? I love it, especially if programs encourage students to find activities they enjoy doing (please don't stick people on indoor windowless tracks so small you have to do 23 laps to complete a mile). However, I also think measurements of success should be individualized to give each person a reasonably attainable goal. Let's hope we can get fitness back into every school—elementary, junior high, and high schools too.