Opinion: Health class should not include skinfold lab

For a brief moment last Thursday I knew what cattle felt like. I was poked and prodded for the meat on my bones while standing awkwardly with anxious confusion. I’m not a cow, though. I’m a human being who was subjected to the “skinfold lab” for HLTH 195: Lifetime Health & Fitness.

The lab began with the students in my class corralled outside of Health Sciences building room 1208. We were told to pick a partner, and two-by-two, we entered the room to have our body fat percentages measured. My partner and I stood up and took our turns getting measured. An older gentleman approached us with a tool called a “caliper,” which looked like a blue lobster claw with numbers on the side. The man pinched me with the blue lobster claw on my thigh, side and arm, and read out three numbers for each measurement. My partner and I wrote the numbers down and we left.

When I arrived back at my dorm, I pulled out my skinfold lab paper and used the provided sheet to find my fat percentage. The last page of the three-page lab had “classifications” that went with each set of percentages. The moment of truth came when I flipped over to the back page. My classification, I found out, was “poor.” I thought for sure I had done the math wrong, but no, according to a piece of paper, I was fat.

I had always felt like I had a healthy body shape, but for that brief moment, my self esteem plummeted as I looked down at my slight stomach pudge and stood in the mirror, trying to stand up straighter and suck it back in. But then my feelings of self-loathing seemed to melt away and were replaced with a pure loathing of the skinfold lab.

I finished this lab feeling utterly dissatisfied. For starters, it was an inaccurate measure of data. Height and weight were not taken into account. How is a girl who is 5 feet 2 inches supposed to be compared to a girl like me who is nearly 5 feet 10 inches? A tall person who eats and exercises the same amount as a short person will naturally weigh more because they have more mass. And on the flip side, shorter people naturally gain weight more easily than taller people do. Neither of these variables were taken into account, which makes for a flawed experiment. I also think health teachers at my school have no place telling me whether my body fat percentage is healthy or unhealthy, because they are not certified physicians.

Along with the logistics of the lab, I had a huge problem with the ethics behind it. Although my partner for the lab seemed nice, we barely knew each other’s names, and suddenly we had to know each other’s body fat percentages. I thought that was an invasion of privacy. Also, the fact that my teacher stated in class “if a doctor has told you not to do this lab, you can do an alternative assignment instead,” was telling. I felt it was implied that people who struggle with severe depression, anxiety or eating disorders should not participate, because according to a doctor, it could further upset them. If this assignment potentially could cause a person struggling with a mental health disorder to relapse, shouldn’t that be a red flag it’s not a good idea? At a college with such high rates of depression and anxiety affecting its student population, you would think this would be considered more carefully.

Forty percent of female college students in the U.S. have eating disorders, according to waldencenter.org. And it’s not just women who are affected. Between 4 and 10 percent of male college students in the U.S. also suffer from eating disorders, according to nationaleatingdisorders.org. After looking at these numbers, my question would be why so many students are subjected to a lab that might increase these percentages. Why should students have to feel ashamed of their bodies because an arbitrary piece of paper tells them to? Chances are, students know if they have a little or a lot of fat on their bodies. They likely don’t need to go through the humiliation of being pinched with a blue lobster claw just to find out their body fat percentage is supposedly “poor.”

In the future, this lab should not be conducted. Truman students have enough to worry about without having their flaws further highlighted. Let’s fold the skinfold lab away for good.