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Editor’s Note: This article contains reference to eating disorders.

Health and fitness are important components of maintaining a balanced lifestyle, which is why it makes sense for educational institutions like NC State to include fitness classes as a part of every student’s coursework. However, having a healthy lifestyle and having the physical fitness of a professional athlete are two very different levels of fitness, a line that appears to be blurred for NC State’s numerous health exercise classes.

Anyone who has taken a health class at NC State knows how unrealistic some of the testing standards can be. For classes like HESF 237: Weight Training, the only way to get a 100 on the plank test is to hold a plank for 4 minutes, and the minimum time requirement to pass the test is two minutes. This is a sharp comparison not just to what most people can physically do, but to what is recommended. Eric L’Italien, a physical therapist with Harvard-affiliated Spaulding Rehabilitation Center, says anywhere between a 10-30 second plank is plenty and 2 minutes is about the maximum extent after which a plank isn’t very beneficial. 

If roughly 2 minutes is considered the maximum recommended length of a plank for physical benefit, why does that only get students a 70% in classes that are simply meant to promote healthy lifestyles, not record-breaking physical abilities? This is not the case for just weight training classes, but others like HESS 239: Self Defense and even 100-level courses. In HESF 105: Aerobics and Body Conditioning, students also are expected to complete a four minute plank for maximum credit. Taught through distance education and in-person, these courses help satisfy the Health and Safety GEP, but at a hefty cost. The class includes a rigorous fitness test that students have to follow a strict protocol for. If this is not followed by even the smallest margin — students risk failing the test, and even the course.

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In addition to setting close to impossible fitness tests, many health classes at NC State promote outdated notions of healthy living, like calorie counting, body mass index (BMI) calculations and the restriction of foods deemed “unhealthy.” Under the student learning outcomes of most HESF/HESS classes, there is no specific requirement for learning nutrition beyond “sustaining an active and healthy lifestyle.” If the requirements are so vague as is, why introduce problematic concepts such as basal metabolic rate (BMR) calculations and calorie counting?

It’s well-documented that BMI, devised in the 1830s, is a long-outdated way of determining body fat content and doesn’t take several important factors into account. BMR, while not as well known as BMI, still takes very cookie-cutter components into its calculation, such as height and weight. Although it’s meant to calculate “the number of calories you’d burn if you stayed in bed all day,” it’s a stepping stone to a second equation: the Harris Benedict Equation, which is oftentimes used to assist in weight loss. Using the Harris Benedict equation, if the number of calories you take in over the course of a day is below the amount calculated, the logical conclusion is that you’d lose weight over time.

In HESF 104: Swim Conditioning, students were asked to calculate their BMR and their total daily caloric need from the Harris Benedict equation. From there, they were instructed to determine the caloric contribution of several predetermined foods using a calorie-tracker website. Calorie counting is problematic for a number of reasons, the least of which being that calories aren’t an exact science and the tools to count them are even less so.

According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, the most common age of onset in eating disorders is between 12-25. The newfound independence, relationship drama and endless opportunities — good and bad — can easily manifest itself in college students of all ages, especially first- and second-years. Since HESF/HESS classes are required across the board, the awareness of less-than-helpful measurements of health such as BMR and the Harris Benedict Equation in impressionable teenagers could lend itself to toxic eating behaviors. Most students are already aware of their eating habits, and if they seek further advice regarding nutrition, they should seek out licensed professionals — not the other way around.

Furthermore, there are plenty of things health instructors can implement in their instruction to improve the quality of their lackluster nutrition education. Health at Every Size (HAES), promotes self-care and body positivity by emphasizing inclusivity in terms of body positivity. There are plenty of resources available for instructors to take advantage of in terms of education, including a pledge. The very least the department could do is bring in a licensed dietitian — not a nutritionist — to teach the nutrition portion, rather than leave it up to professors who don’t have a lick of body positive nutrition training. 

There are a few ways NC State could rework the way health exercise classes are graded. The first alternative is grading based on the percentage of improvement a student shows in exercises. A number of health classes have a pre-test at the beginning of the semester and then another final towards the end. Instead of having a fixed grading scale for all students based on their performance in the final, the grades should instead be distributed according to how much the student has improved through the course of the class. This takes away a lot of the stress and unrealistic standards from the test, allowing students to demonstrate how they have taken time to prioritize their physical health by being active and practicing the exercises. 

Another alternative would be to eliminate physical tests entirely. If the main objective of health exercises classes is to equip students with the information they need to maintain a healthy lifestyle, why can’t the grading be based on participation alone? If the student regularly shows up, does the exercises to the best of their ability and then shows a good understanding of the theoretical concepts of the class, shouldn’t that be enough to get them a good grade for a fitness class?

We need to consider whether NC State’s current health and exercise studies courses truly effect a lasting change for the better in the students they serve. If not, what’s the point?

NC State Student Health offers nutrition counseling for those with eating disorders and disordered eating behavior. Appointments can be made via the HealthyPack portal or by calling 919-515-2563. 

If you or someone you know struggles with eating disorders or unhealthy relationships to food, please visit NC State’s Counseling Center to take advantage of their resources. 

This unsigned editorial is the opinion of Technician’s editorial board and is the responsibility of the editor-in-chief.