Saturday, May 8, 2010

Congrats to the Grads of 2010!

Today is graduation day here at UPEI and as exciting as it is for all my graduating buddies, it's a little bit sad knowing that I will no longer be seeing them on campus and around town. They will be officially grown-ups by this afternoon when they receive their well deserved and hard earned diplomas. This time next year it'll be me crossing the stage to get mine (hopefully!), and I'm sure the year will fly by and be here before I know it.

Everyone at UPEI who has achieved the required grades will be crossing the stage today, but this isn't so for those students at Lincoln University. The university has implemented a rule that those graduating students with a BMI of over 30 must complete a required physical activity course that meets 3 hours a week. The class consists of water aerobics, dance classes, tae bo and other aerobic classes. If students are assigned to this course and do not complete it, they cannot graduate. BMI stands for Body Mass Index, and can be calculated by dividing your weight in kilograms by your height in centimeters squared. As a (future) dietitian, we use this calculation to determine disease risk and health status. BMIs are categorized as follows:
<18 = underweight
18-24.5 = normal weight
25-29.8 = overweight
30-34.5 = obese
35-39.9 = obese class 2
>40 = morbidly obese (obese class 3)
The problem with BMI is that there are a lot of factors that can affect body weight other than fat. For example athletes, or those with a higher percentage of lean body mass (muscles etc) may have an overweight BMI but not actually be overweight. In this case, waist circumference is also used to determine risk of developing chronic disease. Waist circumference and BMI are usually combined to determine a more accurate disease risk. The article does mention that for those who appear to have an overweight BMI simply due to increased muscle mass, they also record a waist circumference to weed these people out.

The Chairman of the school's department of health stated: "We, as educators, must tell students when we believe, in our heart of hearts, when certain factors, certain behaviors, attitudes, whatever, are going to hinder that student from achieving and maximizing their life goals."

Clearly there is a ton of uproar about this regulation, and as a result has been dropped by the administration and is no longer a requirement. The students affected by this rule are university students. The average age of a graduating University student is between 21 and 24 years old. These people are adults, and although many of them still depend on mom and dad for financial support, they are adults none the less. Do I support this rule? Not exactly, but I'm not in an uproar either. I like to think that by the time a person is 21-24 years old, they are old enough to understand the consequences and risks associated with being overweight / obese (obesity increases a person's risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke, some cancers and other ailments). By this age, these people ( most of them) have made a conscious choice not to live healthier lives, not to exercise and not to take an active role in managing their body weight. A this point, I don't think that forcing them to exercise 3 hours a week is going to make much difference. They'll take the course because they have to, and then the majority will revert back to old habits and their old lifestyle.

What I would LOVE to see, however, is drastic measures like this being implemented on elementary, middle and high school children. The rate of childhood obesity is sky rocketing and type 2 diabetes is becoming more common in children now then ever before. I'm not saying we should lay the smack down and force all these kids to exercise relentlessly until they all have normal body weights, but I think that we should be making much more of an effort to expose these kids to a wider variety of physical activities than we currently do.

Obviously I am slightly biased as a former athlete and lover of exercise, and I understand that some people really do just hate to exercise, but I also went through public school, and have participated in my fair share of gym classes. I am the first to admit that I hated gym class in high school. I'm horrible at everything associated with gym class; basketball, floor hockey, volleyball, scooter boards, softball, field hockey, soccer...pretty much any ball sport or team sport. I have no hand-eye coordination and and a total spaz. It's not fun going to gym class knowing you suck at everything and feeling like the entire hour or so is going to be spent letting your teammates down. With experiences like this, you can't blame kids and teens for never wanting to exercise ever again. Luckily I have been exposed to different types of physical activity outside of gym class, and I believe that there is some sort of physical activity out there for everyone. The key is to teach kids this, and give them greater freedom to pick for themselves how they want to exercise. For some it will be a walk, others badminton, other yoga. By providing kids with exposure to a wider variety of activities, my theory is that a greater percentage of them will find something they like, encouraging them to remain active after school and throughout their lives.

I know this probably sounds a little bit rant-ish and I don't really mean for it to. I would just really like to see everyone happy and healthy! Especially children who don't have as much control over what foods they consume (fed by schools and parents mostly) or may not have the opportunities to try new activities outside of school.

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