Pa. University Drops Mandatory Fitness Class for Obese Students

Obese students at a historically black college near Philadelphia won't have to take a fitness class to graduate after all.

Lincoln University faculty nixed the idea in a heated meeting Friday, following complaints the so-called "fat course" undermined a school principle of equal treatment.

The school had initiated the policy to address high rates of obesity and diabetes, especially in the African-American community.

About 80 seniors had gotten e-mails saying they had to take the fitness course to graduate, Lincoln officials said.

The "Fitness for Life" course will instead be suggested for certain students after a freshman wellness class that addresses a number of health issues. The freshman course is required for all students, said James L. DeBoy, chairman of Lincoln's department of health, physical education and recreation.

The mandate, which took effect for freshmen entering in fall 2006, would have required students to get tested for their body mass index, a measure of weight to height.

A normal BMI is between 18.5 and 24.9. Students with a score of 30 or above — considered obese — would have been required to take the class. The class meets for three hours a week, and involves walking, aerobics, weight training and other physical activities, as well as information on nutrition, stress and sleep.

Health experts applauded the school's intent, but some questioned its execution, calling the demand to disclose health information awkward, distasteful and often ineffective.

Others thought recent amendments to the Americans with Disabilities Act might lead to exemptions for some morbidly obese students, on grounds that class participation could be dangerous.