COLUMN: Stephens College $1M challenge should be about wellness, not weight

Monday, August 30, 2010 | 10:19 a.m. CDT; updated 5:49 p.m. CDT, Monday, August 30, 2010

As I’m sure is the case with my fellow broke college students, I often ask myself what I would do for $1 million. It’s a fun game to play.

Would I quit drinking Diet Coke, to which I am hopelessly addicted? Yes. Would I listen to nothing but Nickelback for the rest of my life? Yes. You can probably see where I’m going. With a few exceptions, the question usually ends up being: What wouldn’t I do for $1 million?

While reading the news last week, I might have found an answer. The Associated Press reported on a weight-loss contest initiated by an anonymous donor in Oregon and the faculty and staff at Stephens College. The donor, who the AP reports is a Stephens graduate, promised the women's college $1 million if the staff collectively loses 250 pounds by the end of the year. The mystery person, who is reported to weigh 117 pounds, will also give an extra $100,000 if school president Dianne Lynch loses 25 pounds.

Lynch’s response: "This is a good thing. If we do this, we're $500,000 ahead of our budget goals."

The challenge begins Wednesday. Students at the women’s college won’t participate, but some employees hope it will set a good example.

By a good example, I’m sure they meant inspiring students to live healthier lives, but the challenge isn’t a wellness challenge. It’s a weight-loss challenge, evidenced by the goal's measurement being pounds lost.

According to Stephens College’s website, the college employs about 160 faculty and staff. To reach the goal, each would have to lose about 1 1/2 pounds. This is by no means drastic. But the thing that bothers me is that Lynch didn’t spin this challenge to be more about healthy living and less about losing weight.

Healthiness is related to weight. Diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and certain types of cancer and gynecological problems are all linked to obesity. But you can also be thin and binge drink, chain smoke and eat nothing but Yogoluv's frozen yogurt.

Losing 1 1/2 pounds, though it might start a pattern of healthier living, isn’t going to significantly improve an individual’s health. I don’t see the point. Maybe, as Lynch volunteered, the point is to put the school ahead of its budget goal.

Instead, the leaders at Stephens should have suggested that the staff exercise more, eat better, cut back on alcohol and cigarettes, get regular checkups, find ways to reduce stress and even get more sleep — anything to promote a healthier lifestyle and not pointless weight loss. I know I would be healthier if I were to get more than four hours of sleep on weeknights and thus didn’t have to pump myself full of phenylalanine-riddled Diet Coke to stay awake during the day. (Note to any wealthy, interested parties: I will gladly take on this challenge if you pay me.)

It especially irks me that this type of challenge is taking place at a women’s college. To me, it’s increasingly difficult to find positive images of women and women’s bodies, both locally and nationally. Maybe it’s just because it’s been a tough week or so for women in Columbia.

We were objectified in Marc Goone’s newest music video "Every Girl (at Mizzou)”when he rapped that MU is “full of bitches.” Thanks for that. Also in the news, employees of adult businesses, including women who strip at clubs, were portrayed to be the cause of “seedy behavior” and high divorce rates. Many of those employees will now lose their jobs thanks to the recent restrictions placed on strip clubs that went into effect Saturday.

I might have done the same as Lynch and accepted the challenge, but I certainly would have found it more admirable to pass or at least to tweak the terms. Maybe it will do more good than harm: $1 million is a lot of money. But to me, it seems Lynch and Stephens are selling out. Sure, this money will go to good use at the college, but it’s setting a bad example for young women and what it means to be healthy.

Amanda Woytus is the deputy and calendar editor for Vox Magazine.

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Ellis Smith August 30, 2010 | 10:53 a.m.

Using weight as the criteria seems obvious: it's easy to MEASURE. Measuring "improved wellness" is not so easy and often requires the passage of time, although improved wellness should definitely be the goal.

Mizzou full of bitches? My goodness! I seriously doubt whether anyone associated with Missouri University of Science & Technology*, University of Missouri-Kansas City or University of Missouri-St. Louis would agree with that.

I have previously commented on the adult entertainment situation. On a list of things we really need to do, that is right at the bottom.

*- We tend to value women highly, as we don't have many of them (about 25% of the student body).

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