Editorial: College’s forced fitness activities go too far

Esteban Diaz | Editorial Cartoonist

In an effort to lower the obesity rate in South Carolina, this year’s freshman class at Coker College will be required to complete fitness assessment tests and partake in physical activities, such as intramurals, aerobics classes and wellness programs.

As noted in a USA Today article, South Carolina moved from being the 9th fattest state to the 8th fattest state, with 32 percent of South Carolina residents classified as obese according to a study released in July 2011.

With these statistics in mind, Coker College officials decided to educate students on how to live a healthier life to better prepare them for life after college.

But while educating students on leading healthy lifestyles is beneficial, necessary and important, Coker College has taken this type of “education” a step too far.

Coker College will require students to have their body mass index (BMI) measured, “do a one-mile run/walk; and see how many push-ups and sit-ups they can do in a few minutes,” USA Today said.

While Baylor’s fitness requirement is less stringent, it is no less mandatory. All students must take four human performance credits to graduate.

It is possible to fulfill these requirements without ever stepping foot in a gym, however. The university accepts Citizenship and Community Service classes as human performance credits, for example.

There is a difference between educating and requiring. Students ought to have the options of taking aerobics classes or eating healthy items in the cafeteria; they should not be forced to participate in intramural sports and wellness programs. Forcing students to do so takes the program’s objective to a whole new level and most likely discourages students from wanting to live a healthier life.

It’s great to see that colleges want to promote healthy living by offering nutritious food options in cafeterias, holding seminars on nutrition or fitness and having a variety of exercise activities for students, but the decision to participate should be in the students’ hands, not the administration’s.

Two years ago, Lincoln University in Pennsylvania attempted to install this type of a program among their overweight students, but failed. According to an Associated Press article in 2009, students, especially seniors, were upset by the fact they had to take these fitness classes in order to graduate.

“I didn’t come to Lincoln to be told that my weight is not in an acceptable range,” Tiana Lawson, senior at Lincoln University, said in the school’s newspaper, The Lincolnian. “I came here to get an education.”

The reason students choose to attend college is to receive an education to prepare them for life outside of college, not to be forced to complete classes normally offered as extracurricular activities.

Although Lincoln University only required those with a BMI over 30 to participate in these classes, students with high or low BMIs should not be forced to actively partake in this program as part of their requirements for a college degree.

This university and any other university that chooses to follow in Coker College’s footsteps ought to restructure their program and put the focus on educating rather than mandating.