Lincoln University Repeals Controversial Health Requirement - Black Enterprise
Black Enterprise Magazine January-March 2019 Issue

NEWS_Obesity2After Lincoln University received widespread media attention and negative criticism, faculty at the historically black university voted this month to repeal a policy that required students with a Body Mass Index of 30 or above to take a fitness class in order to graduate.

“In no way, form, or fashion was there any intent to discriminate or to insinuate that we were discriminating against a group of people,” says Lincoln University President Ivory V. Nelson of the policy that was instituted in 2005.

The Lincoln faculty decided earlier this month that all undergraduate students will be required to take a general health class instead. At the conclusion of that class, the professor will recommend, but not require, a fitness class for those students who they believe are at risk for hypokinetic disease (obesity) based on a battery of health risk appraisals, not just BMI.

BMI is a measure of a person’s body fat based on height and weight, but experts argue that it is a crude measurement that can be inaccurate.

There is a strong association between obesity and hypertension and diabetes, says Dr. Thomas LaVeist, director of the Hopkins Center for Health Disparities Solutions at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. In addition, obesity increases the risk to joint problems, asthma, and sleep apnea, which increases the likelihood of getting congestive heart failure. African American women have the highest rates of being overweight or obese compared to other groups in the U.S. About four out of five African American women are overweight or obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

“I applaud Lincoln University for trying to do something proactive to deal with an extremely serious problem and a particularly important problem among African Americans,” says LaVeist. “However I think their mistake was assuming that physical and nutritional education should only be given to people with a BMI over 30.”

Dr. Ilene Fennoy, clinical professor of pediatrics at Columbia University College called the old policy “pejorative” but agreed that there is nothing wrong with requiring every student to pass a fitness class to graduate from college.

“Everybody is missing the point. The point is not BMI,” says Fennoy, who was listed on Black Enterprise’s List of Top Doctors. “The issue is that everybody needs to exercise. If we don’t teach it anywhere in the system, [it won’t] be a surprise that we spend 50% of our healthcare dollars for diseases that result as a function of obesity.”

Student Tianna Y. Lawson wrote in the Lincolnian, the school’s student newspaper, that the policy infringed on her right of personal choice. However, people who are overweight and obese do not have special protection under anti-discrimination laws, says Samantha Graff, director of legal research at the National Policy & Legal Analysis Network to Prevent Childhood Obesity.

Graff recommends that private institutions promote healthier lifestyles without singling out a particular group of people. For example, they can open stairwells and provide free access to the gym to encourage exercise, get rid of junk food in campus vending machines, and/or sponsor a community garden or farmer’s market.


Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University

Obesity in African Americans

Active Living Research to Prevent Childhood Obesity and Support Active Communities

A Legal Primer for the Obesity Prevention Movement

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Marcia Wade Talbert

Marcia is a multimedia content producer focusing on technology at Black Enterprise Magazine. In this capacity she writes and assigns stories to educate readers about social media; digital integration; gadgets, apps, and software for business and professional development; minority tech startups; and careers in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics). In 2012, she received two Salute to Excellence Awards from the National Association of Black Journalists and was recognized by Blacks in Technology (BiT) as one of the Top 10 Black achievers in the tech arena for 2011 at SXSW in Austin, Texas. She has spoken about technology on panels for New York Social Media Week, at The 2012 Rainbow/PUSH Wall Street Summit, as well as at Black Enterprise’s Entrepreneurs Conference and Women of Power Summit. In 2011, chose her as one of 28 People of Color Impacting the Social Web, and through crowdsourcing she was listed as one of BlackWeb2.0's/HP's 50 Most Notable African American Tastemakers in Social Media and Technology for 2010. Since taking on the role of Tech editor in September 2010, she has conceived and produced five cover stories on Technology and/or STEM and countless articles, videos, and slideshows online. Before joining as an interactive general assignment reporter in 2008, she freelanced with Black Enterprise beginning in 2003 while working as the technical editor at Prepared Foods magazine. There she further honed her writing skills and became an authority on food ingredients, including ingredients used in food fortification and enrichment. Meanwhile, her freelancing with Black Enterprise and helped her stay current on issues pertaining to the financial and business welfare of African Americans. As a general reporter for Black Enterprise she attended and reported on the Democratic and Republican National Conventions, where she interviewed Valerie Jarrett, senior advisor and assistant to President Barack Obama and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. Marcia has a Bachelor of Science degree in Agriculture with an emphasis in food science from the University of Minnesota, and a Master of Science degree in journalism from Roosevelt University in Chicago. En route to her secondary degree, she served as the editor-in-chief of the Roosevelt University Torch, a weekly, student-run newspaper. An avid photographer and videographer, Marcia is one of several employees at BLACK ENTERPRISE who interned for the publishing company as a college student. She lives in New Jersey with her husband, a food scientist; her seventeen-month-old daughter; and “The Cat”, but still considers Chicago home.