Gaston: Oklahoma school requiring students to wear Fitbits needs to reconsider its decision

Sam Gaston

The Fitbit craze has claimed the wrists of many, as people try to track their daily activity by monitoring steps, caloric intake and even sleep patterns (depending on the model). This seemingly small device has created a big controversy at a school in Oklahoma.

Oral Roberts University, a Christian University in Tulsa, has recently required its first-year students to start wearing Fitbits. Undergraduate students are required to take a physical fitness class each semester, which mandates a minimum weekly activity time of 150 minutes. This time will be monitored by the Fitbit and students are then graded based on their activity logged. In addition to physical activity, the students’ heart rates will also be observed. Their weight and diet is not monitored. 

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The incorporation of technology in fitness has become routine for many. There are so many new apps that can track calories, activity, diet and weight. However, this use is usually implemented by choice on behalf of the individual and they can choose what and when to track. Forcing the use of the Fitbit on the students in unfair and should be reconsidered because this can be damaging to the students in terms of their physical and mental health, increased stress from comparing themselves to peers and cost. 

If it is mandated by the school, does that mean it comes free? Ha ha — nope. We all know they aren’t exactly cheap — they are selling at their school’s bookstore for about $150. How is it permitted to force college students to buy something that is unnecessary and expensive? We can barely afford to not pick up loose change off of the ground or a burrito, for that matter. The school claims it’s “trying” to incorporate the cost into tuition fees, but this is still a cost that students pay. 

While this fitness curriculum is required by the school and students must comply, wearing a Fitbit on their wrist constantly could cause some triggering behavior. Some may have previously overcome an eating disorder, or could be battling one at the moment. This device could cause students to become more aware of their habits. While this could also be beneficial, and is what the university is aiming to do, some may interpret this differently and feel the need to exercise excessively or make other drastic changes that affect their health.  

As college students, we are constantly trying to be and do our best, for the most part. We compete with ourselves to beat our personal bests. Comparing ourselves to peers is also a habit that can be hard to break, as we sometimes fail to realize that people have strengths in different areas. Wearing a Fitbit could become another source of unhealthy competition and stress that students don’t need. “How many steps did you get today?” or “How fast was your mile?” could become commonly-asked questions on the university’s campus. A little bit of healthy competition can be beneficial and fun, but providing another way to create a constant comparison could be damaging. 

Trying to provide a way to motivate students to work out is definitely important and should be encouraged. However, this is a lifestyle choice. Forcing the issue of working out for a certain amount of time can lead to harmful effects like those discussed above. Working out keeps people healthy, increases energy and decreases stress. These are all crucial factors to succeed in college. It is easy to see how the school thinks that this technology would create an easier, more efficient way to track activity, but there are too many cons surrounding the issue. 

Oral Roberts University needs to reconsider the implementation of Fitbits into their curriculum. They are expensive, could be potentially triggering and are not necessary. While this technology can be useful for some students who choose to use it, others should not be forced to buy it. It is possible to stay fit without the Fitbit.

Collegian Columnist Sam Gaston can be reached at letters@collegian.com or on Twitter @SammyGaston.