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Petition Launches Against Oral Roberts University's Fitbit Policy

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Oral Roberts University (ORU) made headlines early this year when it started requiring all incoming freshmen to wear Fitbits — this way, fitness data can be tracked by the school and contribute to students’ grades.

Now, advocates are spreading a petition saying the requirement is problematic for those with eating disorders, and promotes compulsive exercise and a “one-size-fits-all benchmark” for health.

According to NBC, all undergrads at ORU are required to take a physical fitness course each semester. Previously, students were required to manually log aerobics points in a journal. Now, they’re using Fitbits to track the required minimum of 10,000 steps a day.

Kaitlin Irwin, who started the petition, doesn’t go to ORU, but said she was appalled when she heard the school was tracking students’ steps.

“There are so many different bodies out there; it just seems absurd to assign a grade to how a student uses their body,” Irwin told The Mighty in an email.

Irwin is a blogger for Proud2Bme, a youth program for the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA), that helped her craft the petition.

Diana Denza, youth outreach coordinator at NEDA who oversees Proud2Bme, said they were happy to collaborate with Irwin on her petition. Irwin had published a blog about the requirement on Proud2Bme’s site — and the pieces’s popularity motivated them to take the issue further.

“Proud2Bme got involved because it’s the right thing to do,” she told The Mighty in an email. “We are committed to creating change on campus – what better way to do so than to challenge misguided policies that can harm students who are already struggling? Eating disorders are complex mental health issues, but we know that putting an overemphasis on numbers, diet and exercise habits can lead to dangerous habits. ”

ORU provost Kathaleen Reid-Martinez told NBC News the Fitbit requirement was part of the school’s emphasis on “whole-person education” which include mind, body and spirit.

But Irwin argues this sends a dangerous message to young people — who can already be vulnerable during their transition to college.

“They’re transitioning from high school to college, they’re overwhelmed with academics, social life, and their own identity. Now ORU is adding another stressor,” she said. “Depending on the student, the Fitbit requirement could cause them to develop an unhealthy relationship with exercise, their bodies and their self-esteem. It can encourage comparisons between different body types and capabilities and can take a mental toll on students.”

To people who say ORU requirement is “no big deal,” Irwin said it reflects a bigger issue in how we view health.

“It’s not ORU’s rule in itself that is the big deal,” she said. “It’s that our society is still trying to determine a person’s value and success based on their body.”

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237.

Lead photo: Fitbit

Originally published: April 5, 2016
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