CHAPEL HILL : A textbook for a required fitness class at UNC-Chapel Hill calls cancer a disease of choice, describes a theory that Holocaust victims failed to tap into their inner strength and maintains that “many if not most women” who are obsessed with weight have become habitual dieters.
The online textbook, “21st Century Wellness,” also includes standard information about fitness, nutrition and health. It is read by students in a one-credit hour course called Lifetime Fitness, required of all undergraduates at UNC. Each year, nearly 5,000 undergraduates take the class, which is aimed at teaching students about healthy lifestyles while incorporating a physical activity such as tennis, soccer or running.
Skye Golann, who graduated from UNC in May, took the class in the fall of 2017. He made an A, and said he enjoyed the physical activity twice a week as part of the class.
But he said the online course reading materials were “beyond bad.” He said he would sometimes read his girlfriend passages of “the craziest thing I found in the book that week.”
Golann said the book gives short shrift to genetic or societal factors that affect people’s health — for example, a lack of access to health care and good nutrition for many lower-income people. “There’s an extreme emphasis on personal responsibility that pretty much explicitly blames people in poor health,” he said, “which I thought was very problematic.”
Calling cancer, diabetes and cardiovascular problems diseases of choice goes too far, Golann said.
“Who doesn’t know someone who is a survivor or someone who died of cancer?” Golann added. “I remember thinking about, reading it — we have a huge cancer hospital less than a mile away.”
UNC adopted the online course materials a few years ago, said Darin Padua, chair of exercise and sport science, though the Lifetime Fitness course has been in existence for nearly 15 years.
Lifetime Fitness replaced the university’s required traditional physical activity courses. Padua said the change was made to give students more of an education on fitness and healthy living, as opposed to one standalone sports class that would be less likely to have a long-term benefit for students.
The course modules revolve around basic themes of how to have a healthy lifestyle, including cardiovascular fitness, muscles, endurance and strength, flexibility, nutrition and weight management, Padua said.
He said UNC seeks student reviews on its classes, and the strengths and weaknesses of how the content is presented.
“Each year we get feedback and we try to keep things updated as information changes,” Padua said, adding, “We work with the publishing group, Bearface, to make modifications on a regular basis.”