Proud2Bme | Oral Roberts University's Fitbit Requirement for Freshmen is Absurd

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Oral Roberts University's Fitbit Requirement for Freshmen is Absurd

By Kaitlin Irwin--Imagine your university demanded that you exercise, log a pre-determined number of steps each day and attain a heartbeats-per-minute goal. Oh, and your professors are able to see this information, as well as when and where you exercise, how many calories you burn, when you sleep and how much you weigh. It’s all in the name of science, right?

Oral Roberts University recently began requiring freshmen to wear a Fitbit to track their daily aerobic activity. The Fitbit tracking replaces the school’s old end-of-semester test in which students had to run 1.5 miles. According to ORU, they hope to use the Fitbit findings to better track the correlation between fitness levels and academic success. ORU has included a physical component in its curriculum for years, with students previously required to manually record their aerobic activity. Now, the Fitbit will do it for them.

For many of us (regardless of whether or not we have personally struggled with an eating disorder) this idea seems downright destructive and a direct path to disastrous consequences. For example, what about students who over-exercise? Many ED sufferers have a compulsive need to exercise for copious amounts of time. What’s going to happen when professors see this information? Will it be praised or will it be a red flag?

Another concern is that the Fitbit requirement may encourage comparisons among students. College is already a stressful time, with students comparing grades, looks and popularity. The Fitbit requirement adds fuel to the fire by encouraging physical activity comparisons as well. Ultra-competitive students may feel the need to “be better than” other students, developing an unhealthy relationship with exercise.

Besides, how do you grade health? Health looks different on everyone. There is no standardized grade or level of health. With so many different body types out there, this benchmark of “success” is downright ridiculous. Plus, with a digital gradebook logging each student’s “aerobics points,” students may feel more stressed out than ever about “making the grade.” I don’t know about you, but I would be skeeved to know that my professors knew when I slept, where I was all the time and how much I weighed from day to day (did I mention that the Fitbit has a GPS tracker, which keeps track of where students are?).

Everything about this just sounds so wrong; I can’t imagine how ORU decided that this would be a good idea. They claim that it is an advanced scientific method that no other university implements—but did they even talk to any mental health professionals? There are so many mental (and physical) repercussions of tracking and grading your students’ physical activities that it makes my head spin.

Universities that genuinely want to encourage their students to be healthy and happy can consider implementing some commonsense policies (that don’t involve attaching fitness trackers to their students):

1. Give students the freedom to move–on their terms.

Yoga and walking, kickboxing, self-defense...the possibilities are endless. Some students like solitary activities, like squash, weight-lifting or running. Others enjoy group activities, like a dance class, sports team or hiking club. Plus, physical activity doesn’t have to be regimented. What about riding a bike, having a snowball fight or taking a dip in the pool?

2. Focus on the benefits of exercise.

There are so many wonderful aspects of exercise; why is ORU ruining that with their extremist Fitbit requirement? ORU needs to realize that everybody has unique needs. Exercise can release endorphins (happy feelings) in the brain, bring people together, stave off illness, reduce stress and improve overall well-being. ORU’s attempt to determine the correlation between exercise and academic performance may just cause their students stress and make them view exercise as a chore rather than as a fun activity.

3. Have a volunteering requirement.

Rather than focus on exercise, ORU could focus on volunteering. Being a volunteer provides many of the same benefits that exercise does, plus students can network, learn new skills and meet new people. Volunteering at a homeless shelter, an animal hospital or a retirement home will get students out of their dorms and doing good. ORU could even reconfigure their Fitbit study as a voluntary pursuit, collecting aerobic data from those students who feel comfortable participating.

Students can definitely benefit from exercise, and everyone needs some level of activity on a daily basis—but by mandating this program and grading students on their aerobic activity, ORU is creating unnecessary stress and competition that could cause serious harm to an already-vulnerable population.

About this blogger: Kaitlin Irwin is a recovered anorexic who spent her college years struggling to hide her illness. With lots of support, patience and an Intensive Outpatient Program, she embraced herself, flaws and all. In her free time, she enjoys exercise, cooking and art and can usually be found with a good book, a journal or her fiancé. She hopes to use her love of creative expression to spread positivity and love to others.

For more on body image, check out:

Strength in Numbers: A Personal Story on Overcoming Cyberbullying

My Body Type is Not an Insult: On Identifying as Fat

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Proud2Bme is an online community created by and for teens. We cover everything from fashion and beauty to news, culture, and entertainment—all with the goal of promoting positive body image and encouraging healthy attitudes about food and weight.

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