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Don’t Drink the Kool-Aid: The Role of Class and Institution in Obesity and Diabetes

achiles's picture
Anna Chiles
Biology 103
Professor Grobstein
Web Paper 3 due 12/2/09
Don’t Drink the Kool-Aid: The Role of Class and Institution in Obesity and Diabetes
            Recently, a traditionally black Pennsylvania university, Lincoln University, has made news due to a new school rule: any freshman with a Body Mass Index (BMI)[1] of 30 or above has until graduation to take ‘Fitness for Life,’ a health and physical education class. Obese seniors who neither take the course nor reduce their BMIs to under 30 will not be able to graduate until they do so. Dr. James DeBoy, the chair of Physical Education and Health at Lincoln University, had this to say about potentially preventing 80 students from graduating this coming spring in a recent interview by NPR:
What good is it to go through college, get your bachelor's degree at Lincoln University, go get your graduate degree, work for five, six, seven years, and all of a sudden, you experience a catastrophic health issue associated with the obesity. That would be a tragedy. So we again believe that it's our professional educators' responsibility to alert students to this.[2]
Aside from raising pertinent questions about discrimination, this case highlights the fact that obesity has become one of our country’s leading health issues. But what is causing 26% of people in the United States to be dangerously overweight? In this paper, I will explore the link between obesity, diabetes, institutions and class.
            A study directed at Monash University established a traceable link between obesity and diabetes, publishing that “fat cells release a novel protein called PEDF (pigment epithelium-derived factor), which triggers a chain of evens and interactions that lead to development of Type 2 diabetes.” The professor who led this study, Professor Matthew Watt, explained that “when PEDF is released into the bloodstream, it causes the muscle and liver to become desensitized to insulin. The pancreas then produces more insulin to counteract these negative effects.”[3] Watt said that “the more fat tissue a person has, the less sensitive they become to insulin. Therefore a greater amount of insulin is required to maintain the body’s regulation of blood-glucose.” And, because increased insulin production overwhelms the pancreas, this vital organ eventually ceases to release insulin. When organ function reaches this level of dysfunction, people develop Type 2 diabetes.
            But, the fact that Mississippi and Alabama have topped the country’s obesity rate charts for 5 years in a row now would suggest that there is something other than genetics and voluntary, national eating patterns that is behind obesity. A study by the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute uncovers that obesity rates are much higher among minority groups (82% of non-Hispanic Black women and 75% of Mexican American women are overweight or obese, compared with only 58% of white women; similar trends are found among men). More shocking is the rate of young obesity (almost 20% of school-aged children are overweight or obese), which has tripled since 1980.[4] Most significant in the evaluation of obesity statistics is the acknowledgement that low-income families are “50% more likely to be obese than women with higher incomes.”
            So, besides high obesity rates, what do Lincoln University students and people in the Deep South have in common? –economically limited access to healthy food, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean meats. Low-income families, especially those who shop for groceries with food stamps, do not have the means to buy fresh fruits and vegetables or good, lean meat. The least expensive food is often the most processed and, therefore, the least nutritious. People have been aware of this correlation for years. But, the notion that institutions, such as Lincoln University and public schools around the country, are contributing to young obesity is largely unexplored territory. When asked about the school’s responsibility for student obesity, Dr. DeBoy explained that:
Lincoln, as an HBCU, is underfunded. All HBCUs, as far as I know in my 35 years here at Lincoln, have been historically underfunded. How do you keep costs in line? Unfortunately, one way to cut is that you have food that is going to probably be less costly. Healthy foods cost more; that's a reality.[5]
            Government initiatives seek to encourage students to exercise in order to combat young obesity and diabetes, but it seems that they need to acknowledge that the food being provided in school is contributing to this as much as or more than anything. The Obama initiatives like community gardens have provided healthy food advocates with some hope, at least. But obesity rates continue to climb and will until schools learn to take responsibility for the health of their students.
Works Cited

[1] BMI is a calculation which uses a formula based on your weight and height to determine whether you are underweight, normal, overweight, obese, and morbidly obese.
[2] November 20th NPR interview with Dr. James DeVoy
[3] July 2009 Science News article “Critical Link Between Obesity and Diabetes Discovered”
[4] National Heart Lung and Blood Institute. “Diseases and Conditions Index.”

[5] NPR 


Paul Grobstein's picture

"obesity" and health policy

Yeah, I too am a little taken aback.  "Obesity" is certainly a function of, among other things, the sort of food one eats.  But it is also a function of lots of other things, including genetics. And there is certainly a "demonstrable" link between "obesity" and various health conditions, diabetes included.  But that's a statistical link, not one that holds for every individual.  A policy of the kind described strikes me as unwise at best and, at worst, oppressive of individuals, whether "discriminatory" or not.  For more along these lines, see Heaver Americans Push Back on Health Debate.  

ceebee's picture

Unreal. The

Unreal. The rules/requirements should be for everyone. Not for a specific class or target. That's discrimination.

Schools in general are just a joke and a waste of money. Schools are nothing but broken promises and dreams. They teach people nothing of real value. The only thing schools teach is how to be subservient under a "one world government". No free thinking, no creativity, no independence in schools.

Better off using the internet for learning and education. You learn a lot more than being inside the box. A degree/diploma is nothing but a piece of paper.