Recently, I read an article by The Guardian which brought to my attention the potentially dangerous actions of a privatized university in Oklahoma. Oral Roberts University is using Fitbit activity-tracking devices to monitor the activity levels of their students and punishing those who are not active enough based on the university’s standards.
According to the article, the Fitbit program started in the fall semester of 2015 after a pilot trial in 2014. Students are being monitored 24/7, even when they are on vacation over spring break in an effort to allegedly wage a war on the freshman 15.
While I recognize that fitness is important, I am completely against the use of Fitbit trackers to monitor students and punish them academically for not being active enough. Grades should be based on academic performance, not physical activity. And what about students who experience a physical disability which prevents physical activity? Is this program not grounds for discrimination complaints?
Recently, there have been an outpouring of articles which highlight the risks associated with using fitness trackers. More specifically, such devices can trigger disordered eating and obsessions with fitness and “health”. For people who are prone to perfectionistic thoughts, body image issues, or those who already engage in disordered eating behavior, this “war on the freshman 15” could turn into a life or death battle with an eating disorder.
I believe that there are much more effective and safer means of promoting healthy lifestyles among university students. Forcing students to wear devices that track their physical activity is not only an invasion of privacy, but it is also putting them at risk for severe health complications. The freshman 15 never killed anyone, but anorexia and bulimia are among the most deadly mental illnesses. Is it really worth putting students at risk? I believe the answer to that question should be a resounding no. The fact that this “fitness program” actually made it through the review of an ethical standards committee is both shocking and appalling (assuming that it did in fact receive such a review).
I sincerely hope that this Fitbit program comes to an abrupt end as soon as possible. University is stressful enough in and of itself without adding extra pressure.