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Don't fault Lincoln U. for wanting grads to be healthy

Published January 16. 2010 09:00AM

Forgive me if I forget which self-help guru said, "Success leaves clues," but many have spun similar sentiments in an attempt to enhance your life and their wealth. What would work just as well for your well-being but probably not their net worth is a saying stressing the opposite.

That's because failure leaves clues, too.

It's just that society would rather not be reminded about that.

That's what makes the subject of last week's column, the extra graduation requirement for the obese at Lincoln University, such a controversial subject and worthy of additional investigation. In creating the requirement, the school has shown that it has not only learned from less-than-successful clues, but that it has also taken on the thankless job of reminding society.

Since their freshmen year, this year's seniors at Lincoln University have had the opportunity to be weighed and measured for the purposes of calculating their body mass index. In their freshmen year, Lincoln University instituted this rule: students considered obese by their BMI need to take and pass a class called "Fitness for Life" to graduate.

With a semester to go, 80 seniors still haven't had their BMI calculated, and the protests of the requirement by the student body have made national news. If Lincoln University withholds diplomas for this reason, lawsuits will surely follow.

And it's my guess the plaintiffs will win which is sad, yet probably the way it should be.

But that doesn't change the fact that obese young adults are facing a future fraught with medical issues. This is as rock-solid as the saying coined for this column: failure leaves clues.

If you have any doubts of that fact, consider the following research.

Just after the Lincoln University graduation requirement found the national spotlight, Dutch scientists released the results of a 10-year study that found 50 percent of all fatal heart disease cases can be linked to two easy-to-assess health measurements: a high body mass index and a large waist.

These two health-and-fitness "failures" leave obvious clues. They also have long been known as risk factors in developing cardiovascular disease.

This study, however, showed that these two factors could actually predict the risk of developing heart disease and the likelihood of dying from it.

This study considered over 20,000 men and women weighed and measured by the Dutch National Institute for Public Health and Environment between 1993 and 1997. Those who scored 30 or more on the BMI were classified as obese, which follows the World Health Organization guidelines the same ones that Lincoln University applied to their students.

One component of the "Fitness for Life" course that Lincoln University is requiring for those deemed obese is, obviously, exercise. And a recent article that reviewed data gathered on over 1.2 million Swedish men between 1950 and 1976 has correlated the strength of a young adult's cardiovascular system which is nurtured primarily through aerobic exercise with brainpower, the byproducts being better school grades immediately and greater overall success later in life.

Equally encouraging from these results is the finding that genetics do not play as much of a role in the body bolstering the mind as the environment. About this, Dr. Suzanne Steinbaum, a preventive cardiologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, said: "You can't determine that exercise or eating well isn't going to help you because of genetic background. [The study] is showing you that, regardless of genes, what you choose to do and how you choose to live can make a difference."

It wouldn't be surprising if Steinbaum's quote is eventually used in the Lincoln University course it currently mandates for the obese, for it gets to the heart of what the university is trying to provide to them.


Those who created the course know that obesity is now the nation's number-one health concern. In fact, it's challenging cigarette smoking as the medical problem with the highest death rate, and every month, it seems, new research reinforces that.

In November, for instance, an article published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology showed that, when compared to the rate for all adults, the obese had more than triple the incidence of left atrial enlargement, an alteration of the heart that increases the risk of stroke and death.

Surely, Lincoln University can not be faulted for wanting their obese students to avoid a fate like that. Their only fault is not instituting such a measure for all.

After all, society makes a surfeit of calorie-dense food available to all during all hours of the day, so it's easy for a recent college grad and especially a not-so-recent one to lose a handle on their diet or stop exercising and gain to 10 or 20 unwanted pounds.

At that time, it would be to nice for all grads not just the obese ones to review the concepts taught in a course like Lincoln University's "Fitness for Life" and drop the weight just as easily.

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