Women’s liberal arts college

Women’s liberal arts college, Bryn Mawr, one of the famed Seven Sisters known for leading the American women’s education movement, recently sent out emails to 100 current students with “elevated BMIs” asking them to join an eight-week fitness program based on their private health data stored in the student health center. This information was misused, as emails for the fitness program were sent through a HIPAA-protected confidential system that doctorsused regularly. “There were truly good intentions behind this,” Bryn Mawr spokesman Matt Gray told . “It’s a program that includes individual counseling, nutritional advice, and group support.” But regardless of intentions, the Bryn Mawr program, Onward to Weight Loss Success, makes an assumption that those with “elevated BMIs” even want to lose weight or need to lose weight for good health or high self-esteem. Enrolled students are taking a stance against the school, while some health care experts feel this use of personal health information can be potentially harmful.

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“I think a lot of young woman would go down the slippery slope of shame, blame, and guilt if they got that email from their college,” Dr. Pam Peeke, Senior Science Advisor of Elements Behavioral Health and author of Body-for-LIFE for Women, told Yahoo Beauty. “I understand Bryn Mawr meant no malice, but they used an old-fashioned approach to young women who are already battered in the media. Young women who are obese already feel enough shame—they don’t need that email.” Instead of policing BMIs, Dr. Peeke suggests making the gym more accessible and welcoming and turning a healthy campus culture into the norm, instead of focusing on the scale. She cites her undergraduate experience at wellness-centric and radical UC Berkeley, as a major influence for her views on how colleges should address student health.

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Furthermore, Peeke feels that Body Mass Index is not the most reliable source of tracking one’s health in the first place. “BMI tells you nothing about body composition, which means that it doesn’t say anything about how much muscle you have, or how much fat you have,” she says. “I can line up five women who are all 5’4” and 120 pounds, and each will have a different dress size—a size two to a size 10. What’s going on with that? It’s all body composition.”

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On Facebook, junior Rudrani Sarma, who publicly acknowledges her battle with eating disorders and received the email, wrote:

“Sending your students a message “inviting” them to take a weight loss class because they’re on a ‘list of students with elevated BMI’s’ is not ethical. It’s problematic, it’s hurtful, and it’s just plain stupid. You’re telling students that they need to fit an arbitrary measurement of health (that has been criticized to the nth degree). You’re telling students that it’s more important to lose weight than to be healthy. You’re telling students that you discriminate based on weight by compiling a list of ‘fat’ students.

A year ago, getting an email like this would have set me back years of counseling and self-esteem work. I’m in a good enough place now to call out your bulls—t. How dare you, Bryn Mawr?”

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In a statement sent to Yahoo Beauty, Bryn Mawr officials claim the invitation to Sarma was sent as an error in her electronic medical record, and they have since then apologize to her and corrected the error. Health Care officials have apologized directly to students and publicly on social media, and the statement carefully noted that “[t]he goal of the program has been to reduce health risks and to help women take care of and love their bodies at any size. Most students who have completed the program have been positive about their experiences.” Dr. Peeke, however, rebuked, “Young women shouldn’t have to live on a scale.”

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Check out the original email sent by Bryn Mawr below, and let us know if you feel it was inappropriate:

“Give a HOOT! We want YOU to be in the Fitness OWLS program.

The Health Center, Dietician and Athletic Department are collaborating to offer a fitness program for students with elevated BMIs*. There is no cost to you. This program includes a personalized fitness plan and is eligible for PE credit. If you would like to enroll or learn more about this program please email us at [redacted] immediately indicating your interest.

BMI stands for ‘Body Mass Index’ and is a standardized estimate of an individual’s relative body fat calculated from his or her height and weight. An elevated BMI can lead to significant health problems.”
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