Proud2Bme | Bryn Mawr's BMI Backlash

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Bryn Mawr's BMI Backlash

By Amanda Connerton--Every day, plenty of people decide that they should lose weight. They wish to embark on a behavior changing, transformational journey with one goal in mind: weight loss. But what happens when the suggestion or idea to lose weight isn’t entirely up to you?

Last Friday, a select number of students from Bryn Mawr College received a personally addressed email from their Health Center “inviting” them to be a part of their new weight loss program. At first glance, the invitation seemed both harmless and genuine, but read a little further and you may start to feel a bit uneasy. The email goes on to explain that students who received it, did so because their medical records indicate they have an “elevated BMI.” 

Participants of the program would be named “Owls” (Onward to Weight Loss Success) and would be led by several departments of the university including: dining, health services, and athletics. No one is disputing that a fitness program is a good idea however, the anger most students are feeling is about the delivery of the “invitation”.

There are several things to take into consideration when it comes to the email, its purpose, and its delivery. The first and most pressing perhaps, is the targeting of specific individuals. To put it bluntly, the school created their own “fat list.” They deliberately went through medical records of their students and weeded out those with an “elevated BMI.” Individuals who received this email described it as “horrifying” and left them feeling “ashamed” and even “violated” as one young woman put it. Though the school tried to sugar coat the email with a caring and invitational facade, you could clearly read the “size discrimination” between the lines, especially when BMI was brought into the mix.

Which brings me to the next issue: using BMI as their measurement for health. BMI is a height to weight ratio which gives a very vague estimate for one’s relative body fat. Though BMI can be used to indicate whether or not an individual has a potential weight problem, it is not an accurate measurement for one’s overall health, as it doesn’t take into account factors such as: gender, ethnicity, body fat percentage, etc. By using BMI as the school’s health assessment, they are painting the picture that weight is the sole criteria for being healthy. This can have immense psychological and physical repercussions on individuals as they may feel the need to lose weight and in turn focus on just that, when in fact, they may already be considered healthy.

The email has been sent and some damage done, but that doesn’t mean we cannot use this as a learning experience. So how could we approach this situation in the future? One suggestion would be taking the focus being on weight loss and shifting it to overall health and wellness; health is a multidimensional platform consisting of one’s physical, emotional, spiritual, intellectual, occupational, environmental, and social well-being. At the end of the day, BMI is an inaccurate way to measure one’s comprehensive health.

Another thing to consider would be the population targeted. Clearly it was very hurtful for students to be singled out based on their weights. By shifting the focus from weight to health, it opens up the opportunity for more people to participate and benefit from the program, rather than present it as something to be “eligible for” which again, left individuals feeling violated, ashamed, and even disgusted.

Though backlash resulted and emotions have begun to level, what do you think of the situation? Was the email ethical? Should it have been handled in a different manner or was the school simply advocating for the health of their students? 

About the blogger: Amanda is a recent psychology graduate from the University of Rhode Island. She hopes to become a Forensic Psychologist and work with high profile criminals and at-risk individuals. In her spare time she enjoys blogging, singing, writing, and working out.

For more by Amanda:

Lights, Camera, Panic? 

For more on BMI: 

Body Peace or Body Wars: Seventeen's BMI Calculator Says Underweight is "Healthy"

Victory! Seventeen Removes BMI Calculator From Its Website

Weighing Kids at School: Bad Idea

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