Many college freshman are warned about the dreaded "freshman fifteen," the extra weight that students can gain when living on their own and making adult choices for the first time. One university has taken drastic steps to prevent unhealthy habits using digital health technology.
Physical Fitness Requirements
Oral Roberts University has recently unveiled a comprehensive fitness plan, which requires all 900 incoming freshmen to wear a Fitbit and track their progress. Eventually, all 3,500 Oral Roberts students will be wearing the breakthrough medical products. ORU tested the program in the spring of 2014, allowing students to use Fitbits to automatically log their data instead of filling out a daily course notebook. The program is expected to help students develop healthy, disease-preventing diet and exercise habits that will benefit them throughout their lives, using wearable devices and data analysis. Although Fitbits aren't cheap for college students, developing healthy habits could slash future medical bills.
The evangelical school in Oklahoma has long featured physical fitness in the curriculum, and maintains strict rules against drinking or smoking. ORU established a fitness requirement in 1965, based on its evangelist founder's "prosperity gospel," which Sam Thielman of The Guardian described as " a theological approach that considers individual good fortune proof of God's favor." Now instead of requiring students to fill out a daily exercise log and follow the honor code, the University will automatically receive data on student exercise habits.
A Marriage of Technology and Fitness
A University spokesman stated that the devices do not contain a GPS tracker, but fitness data is monitored at all hours of the day, whether students are on campus or studying abroad on the other side of the world. In an interview with Ars Technica, University Provost Kathleen Reid-Martinez explained, "students log into the Fitbit app and grant heart rate and steps tracking permission to an account affiliated with Oral Roberts—and no other tracking is required." Reid-Martinez added that if a student is unable to wear the device, the University will comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act and find an alternative solution.
Students are required to average 10,000 steps a day and at least 150 minutes of intense physical activity per week. The data will make up part of their overall health and physical education grades. Students who do not purchase a Fitbit and participate will see their grades suffer. Organizations incorporating wearable healthcare technology isn't new—companies like Target have given employees free Fitbits. Insurance companies have offered discounts to employees who wear fitness tracking devices, which has led to a backlash in the form of Unift Bits, a site dedicated to "DIY fitness spoofing" to fudge the data. Oral Roberts is the first university that's known to make data syncing with fitness tracking devices mandatory.