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US College Promotes Weight Bias and Discrimination?

What is not shocking is that according to a report on CNN, a US college (Lincoln University, Pennsylvania) has mandated a fitness course that its students have to pass in order to get their degree. 

What is shocking, however, is that only students with a BMI greater than 30, who fail to lose weight during their time at that school are required to take and pass this course.

The underlying assumption of course is that fat people are apparently too stupid to know about healthy eating and exercise and that requiring them to take and pass a course on this will make them drop those excess pounds and become healthy and successful human beings.

Apart from the fact that you would expect college educators to know that wasting resources on well-intended but largely useless weight interventions based solely on “healthy” eating and exercise are not an evidence-base approach to weight management (due to their rather modest effectiveness), assuming that it is even remotely possible to identify individuals in need of “lifestyle education” by simply calculating their BMI (or measuring their waist circumference), is ridiculous.

Perhaps the folks who came up with this idea are unaware of the fact that there is indeed no shortage of “thin” people frequenting fast food restaurants, living sedentary lifestyles or simply using cigarette smoking (if not other drugs), unhealthy dieting, purging, and/or excessive exercise to control their weight.

Singling out students based solely on weight for intervention is nothing else than stereotyping individuals who meet population-based BMI cuttoffs as unhealthy or unfit.

Not only is this discriminatory practice reflective of a limited understanding of the determinants of health, it is also an insult to anyone who’s BMI is greater than 30 despite trying their best to manage their excess weight in this obesogenic environment.

If excess weight is truly affecting a students’ health (and it takes more than a scale or measuring tape to determine this), I have nothing against these students being offered appropriate counseling and interventions by a licensed health professional.

Dictating “lifestyles” to people identified only by virtue of an arbitrarily defined “excess” weight is neither helpful nor supported by scientific evidence.

Perhaps, as one reader comments on the CNN website in response to the college’s response that they are less concerned about health than about the fact that obese students may be less successful in life, “the ones voted as ugly should take a beauty class as this is also related to success”. 

As always, I appreciate any comments on this topic.

Frankfurt, Germany

p.s. Hat tip to Gabriela Tymowski for drawing my attention to this story


  1. Checking the reports on this course, I find students regard it as an “easy credit”.

    I wonder if they actually have to lower their BMI to pass the course, or if simply participating in aerobic dance and other activities is enough to earn a credit.

    A reputable science course that taught about weight control, energy management, etc would be a great idea, but it could only teach general scientific principles, not apply them to individual students with severe weight problems, who need individual medical care.

    And a phys-ed course is a great idea too, but not as a cure-all for obesity.

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  2. course is based on attendance and participation. no weight loss required to pass.

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  3. Unreal. The rules/requirements should be for everyone. Not for a specific class or target. That’s discrimination.

    Schools in general are just a joke and a waste of money. Schools are nothing but broken promises and dreams. They teach people nothing of real value. The only thing schools teach is how to be subservient under a “one world government”. No free thinking, no creativity, no independence in schools.

    Better off using the internet for learning and education. You learn a lot more than being inside the box. A degree/dipolma is nothing but a piece of paper.

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  4. Regarding the article: This is very disappointing. I had a healthy BMI in college so I wouldn’t have been required to take this course, but knew nothing of nutrition and healthy lifestyle (health in high school was mainly an anti-drug ad). As a result I’ve had struggles with weight after college. This would be a useful elective for all students, although I’m not sure whether or not I’d make it required at college since this is something all HS grads should have.

    ceebee: I can’t even begin to imagine who you use for a Dr. I seriously hope when you get sick you go to someone who has a degree instead of someone who learned medicine from WebMD. Your statement is so overgeneralized that it really makes you look foolish. I have multiple degrees and use the skills I learned daily (even on the weekends).

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  5. You ridicule the idea that obese people are too “stupid” to understand healthy eating and exercise, but I think that that’s exactly the case. Not, of course, that they’re stupid, but that they’re unaware. They probably don’t realize the toll that their weight is taking on their health, which makes this university’s move a remarkably responsible one. It won’t kill these people to be taught that their weight puts them at a much greater risk for countless diseases and death, and if nothing else, it’s an easy A to pad their GPAs. I’m not sympathetic to the “you can’t tell me what to do even if I am bigger around than I am tall!” complaints.

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  6. I so agree with you! As someone who has been obese for about 10 years, I can tell you that I am probably about the best educated non-health-professional you’d find. I could write a book on the latest research on diet, weight loss, exercise, programs, etc. It isn’t a lack of education!

    I am betting no one chronically obese or with a family history of obesity came up with that idea!

    Alexa’s comment shows a common cultural bias, that those who KNOW about something can then affect it. For most of us, it’s a journey of finding what works for us coupled with the will power and support to put it in place. It is not (necessarily) a lack of information.

    I’m sure there are many people with weight issues who do not have this information. But there are also many who do.

    One could argue that all smoking college students should have to complete a smoking cessation course. What about students who drink in excess? True, obesity kills. But drunk driving kills faster. THis sort of nonsense could go on and on!

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  7. So… what you’re saying is that you know all the harm you’re causing your body and all the health risks you’re facing, and you still choose to eat thousands more calories than your body needs every day?
    I stand corrected. The problem, at least for you, isn’t a matter of education. It’s a matter of having zero respect for your body. Why do I say this? I say this because I can guarantee you that you did not reach a weight of 190 pounds (assuming you’re 5’6″) by eating 1800 calories of lean protein, fruit and vegetables and getting 30 minutes of cardio every day.
    This isn’t a cultural bias; it’s an assumption that people aren’t too lazy or cowardly to take responsibility for their own health. I apologize, because I was apparently wrong to make that assumption.

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  8. This is ridiculous. I have a BMI over 30, but it’s not because I eat poorly. I eat the best diet of anyone I know. My problem is that I had knee surgery as a child, and in the last 10 years have become sedintary because I had to wait 5 years for a partial knee replacement, and now waiting on a surgeons wait list for the other knee surgery. It’s not like I can take up jogging at this point in my life!!! It’s all I can do to use a cane to get to my bus stop!!!
    Also: What if you were a yoyo dieter all your life, and CAN’T lose weight any longer???? Have a family history of obesity???
    Frankly, when I was a poor student, I occassionally had to live off of oatmeal or popcorn, when there was no other food in the house, and no student funding arriving for weeks. What kind of diet can a student be on then????

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