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College courses can't defeat the acceptance of obesity

Published January 09. 2010 09:00AM

Invariably, it happens every school year. We read a newspaper editorial or a magazine article aloud together, and somewhere in the piece the word "and" is used to begin a sentence.

Immediately, hands rocket into the air. Some students coo, "Ooh, ooh!" like doves to get my attention. Others sit straighter and wave their entire arm side-to-side, like a soccer fan waving his country's flag at a World Cup game.

They all want me to know they remember the writing rule from elementary school that prohibits you from beginning a sentence with "and." I listen patiently and then explain that such a rule does not exist, that it is merely a way to keep students from overusing the word.

Elementary school students, you see, usually do not employ linking expressions to move from one idea to another, yet they sense that some sort of link is required. So instead of beginning sentences with words and phrases like "besides," "still," "soon," afterward," "for example," and "for instance," they use "a-n-d" again and again and again.

And teachers get frustrated enough to say: "You never ever begin a sentence with 'and'!"

But why not?

Although "and" is a coordinating conjunction designed to link together words, phrases, or clauses, there is no grammatical rule that says the word can not link separate sentences. In fact, this is an effective way to draw extra attention to the second of the two elements.

I did so earlier in the column, for instance, to emphasize the teachers' creation of the false rule over the students' overuse of "and." What writers must realize, however, is that this use of "and" becomes ineffectual if done frequently.

So why the explanation on how elementary school teachers create a phantom rule?

Because Lincoln University has done something rather similar with a serious health problem.

Since 2006, there's been a new graduation requirement at this historically black college located in Chester County. Incoming freshmen are supposed to be weighed and measured in order to have their body mass index calculated. Students who score 30 or abovea score that at a bit more than five points over what's considered normal signifies obesityare required to take a class called "Fitness for Life."

According to an Associated Press article, the course involves working out aerobically and anaerobically as well as book work based on proper nutrition, handling stress, and getting enough sleep.

The reason that the requirement is getting press now is because the freshmen from 2006 are scheduled to graduate in May and about 80 of them still have not had their BMI tested, let alone taken the class. While many of the 80 won't score a 30 or higher, some will.

If these students have enough credits, should the school withhold diplomas from them simply because they don't feel the need to do anything about their less-than-optimal physical condition? James L. DeBoy, chairman of health, physical education and recreation at Lincoln University thinks so.

In the aforementioned AP article, he says, "We have an obligation to address this [the obesity epidemic] head on, knowing full well there's going to be some fallout."

While I do believe in the obligation that DeBoy mentions, I can't help but remember what one of my high school history teachers said about why Prohibition failed in the United States: "You can change laws, but you can't change the mores [the moral attitudes and customs] of the people."

A class like "Fitness for Life" will not do any long-term good unless the students really feel that a change of lifestyle and body composition is in their best interest.

And according to a survey recently done in Great Britain, the majority of overweight people don't believe that, primarily because they don't believe they are fat. Of the 2,100 surveyed, one out of four was considered clinically obese by medical standards, yet less than one out of 10 admitted to being that.

So a mandated course for fatties is similar to family members and friends trying to help a problem drinker. For the help to be accepted, the problem drinker needs to admit to having a problem .

Another issue with Lincoln University singling out the obese was addressed by 21-year-old LU senior Tiana Lawson. She wrote in the school paper that she came to school to get an education, not to be told that her weight is not in an acceptable range. In a follow-up interview by the AP, Lawson made an even better point: "If Lincoln truly is concerned about everyone being healthy," she said, "then everyone should have to take the class, not just people who happen to be bigger."

How true.

When I attended what's now called DeSales University, intercollegiate athletes received course credit for participation. As a result, I never took a single phys ed or health class.

While I don't believe it adversely affected me, I've encountered a number of former teammates who do absolutely no exercise whatsoever anymore and look it. They are absolutely bursting at the seams.

In short, what's really needed in this country are not college courses on being fit, but a change of attitudes and customs. Don't forget, it wasn't so long ago that drinking and drivingand even to some extent drunk drivingwas condoned.

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