Oral Roberts University Requires Fitbit for All Freshmen

Posted by on Feb 3, 2016

Oral Roberts University Requires Fitbit for Freshmen

Oral Roberts U requires students to track activity for a grade

Oral Roberts University, a Christian college in Tulsa, Oklahoma, recently announced that it is requiring all freshmen to wear the popular fitness and activity tracker, Fitbit.

The school will track each student’s activity level (and other health data) as part of a first-year course known as Health Fitness I. The Fitbit data will account for 20% of students’ grade.

The move is a modern upgrade for a long-established fitness curriculum at Oral Roberts, which previously required students to “manually log aerobics points in a fitness journal” and complete the semester with a graded 1.5-mile run. Now, with Fitbit, students no longer have to manually record their points (nor can they lie about their activity level, as some Oral Roberts U alumni pointed out).

Something even more damaging...

A friend pointed me toward a blog post from a few years ago about Oral Roberts U. Apparently, besides being ill-informed about mental health, they’re also sexist. Read more here.

Why this Fitbit program is a terrible idea

First, let me say this about the program:


What immediately spikes my blood pressure as I think about this program are the consequences it could have on any students at Oral Roberts U who struggle with an eating disorder or similar issues. Granted, this is may be a small population at ORU, but as a recovery blogger and mental health advocate, I automatically go there.

I shudder to think about how I would have handled a Fitbit requirement in college. It would have been the perfect storm of an undiagnosed eating disorder colliding with intense perfectionism. Nothing less than A in Health Fitness 1 would have been acceptable to me (as with all of my courses). My self-competition would have been matched only by the delight my eating disorder would have taken in this school-sanctioned “fitness” challenge.

I could only hope that the school would’ve been monitoring my withering resting pulse alongside the other health data.

(And it’s not just me who would take to Fitbit like an addict to her drug of choice: Read Andria Martin’s story on xojane.com.)

I’m not a clinician, and I can’t claim that all people with these issues will be triggered similarly by a Fitbit.

But I’d place a pretty steep bet on it.

We’re not talking about just a few students here

Like I said, people with eating disorders are a small subset of the population. I know that. Everyone with an eating disorder knows that.

But we’re not just talking about people with full-blown eating disorders here. Millions of people struggle to some degree with weight, body image, and self-acceptance. There wouldn’t be a billion-dollar diet and fitness industry if these vulnerabilities were not so readily exploitable.

Here are some stats that I’d included in an article for Proud2BMe:

  • More than 108 million people in the U.S. are on a diet. The weight-loss industry —diet books, diet drugs, weight-loss surgeries, and so on — brings in more than $20 billion each year.
  • A 2011 survey found that 75% of American women endorse unhealthy thoughts, feelings, or behaviors related to food or their bodies, and that 91% of college women had attempted to control their weight through dieting (22% of whom dieted “often” or “always”).
  • 35% of “normal dieters” progress to pathological dieting. Of that group, 20 to 25% go on to develop a partial or full-syndrome eating disorder.

We are inundated with messages about food and dieting. We are led to believe in “good” versus “bad” foods. We are made to feel guilty, if not downright ashamed, for failing to wake up at 5 a.m. to cram gym time into our already grueling schedules. We are shown images of women with thighs no thicker than their knee bones and stomachs without even a hint of bulge, and we infer from these unicorn images that something must be wrong with us.

Oral Roberts University and Fitbit

Exhibit A

Eventually, we realize we cannot measure up to the artifice. Likewise, the unhealthy competition that Oral Roberts University is fomenting will eventually implode when it comes to light that, shockingly, not all people are built with the physical aptitude that Oral Roberts presupposes of them

Different bodies can achieve different fitness goals. A one-size-fits-all exercise regimen would not suit us any better than the one-size-fits-all gym shorts that would outfit it.

There are better ways to inspire people to care about their health

Exercise is good for you. Caring about health and diet is normal. I’m not saying that we should eliminate all body-talk, nor am I saying that health, fitness, and diet are totally relative and thus cannot be measured.

I also understand that Oral Roberts is viewing this Fitbit program through the lens of their Whole Person Education. I get that — my college (a Jesuit university) espouses the same principle: cura personalis, which means “care for the whole person.” In a nutshell, education must nurture students’ physical, emotional, and spiritual (however you might conceive of that) wellbeing, as well as their intellects. These facets are interconnected, and the health (or sickness) of one will inevitably impact the others.

But you’re not going to improve students’ health by scaring them (i.e., yoking their activity levels to their grades) or shaming them (forcing them to measure up to a school-wide objective). You’re just going to end up with a bunch of stressed-out students.

That’s not something that college students need in greater doses, and that’s certainly not consistent with the commitment to care for “the whole person.”

So, Oral Roberts University, for the sake of the students in your care, please reassess this plan.

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