Freshmen at Oral Roberts University are required to wear Fitbit trackers and log at least 10,000 steps a day. It’s part of an effort to keep students healthy — but a nonprofit advocacy group for people with eating disorders is warning it could do just the opposite.
The National Eating Disorders Association is circulating a petition, which so far has about 900 signatures, arguing that tracking exercise and grading students on their activity levels “may lead to drawing unfair comparisons between students, creating a one-size-fits-all benchmark for health, [and] encouraging compulsions to overexercise.”
The group also warns that the physical activity requirement at Oral Roberts, a Christian university in Tulsa, Okla., could be dangerous for people with anorexia or bulimia, conditions that often spur compulsive exercising.
“Something like a Fitbit can really trigger unhealthy behavior,” said Diana Denza, NEDA’s youth outreach coordinator.
Wesley Odom, a student at the university, said the petition was misguided.
“They totally misunderstand what we’re doing with it,” said Odom, a senior. “It’s just part of the philosophy of educating the whole person, including the body.”
Oral Roberts has required student physical activity since its founding in 1965. “Under the old system, you had to log your own aerobics points,” said Odom, whose mother and grandmother were also ORU students. “We were on the honor system. ”
Now, the students’ trackers will automatically log their aerobics points into a grade book. The students can also choose not to wear the Fitbit, but they must then use the pen-and-paper system. Either way, they must participate in tracking their activity.
If they choose not to do it, “they choose to get a lower grade,” said Kenda Jezek, dean of the university’s nursing school.
Jezek said the school has support systems for students who might be struggling with compulsive exercising or other issues. Oral Roberts also makes special provisions for students with disabilities.