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    Chinese Universities Introduce Weight Loss Classes for Unfit Students

    The universities are assessing students based on how much weight they can drop in a semester. The “record holder” reportedly shed 15 kilograms.
    May 22, 2024#health#education

    As China grows increasingly concerned about the nation’s ballooning obesity rate, some universities are introducing intense new “weight loss classes” that assess students directly based on how many kilograms they can shed.

    Several colleges, including Beijing’s prestigious Peking University, have introduced weight loss courses, which count for college credit and in some cases are hugely oversubscribed.

    China’s obesity rate has risen rapidly in recent years. Nearly 35% of the population is now overweight, and over 14% is classified as obese, according to one recent study.

    Chinese college students are already required to take mandatory physical education classes, but these new weight loss courses differ in that the explicit goal is for students to lower their body mass index (BMI).

    The techniques they employ are often intense. Peking University’s class — named “Physical Enhancement: Exercise and Diet” — has become a hot topic in recent weeks due to the tough regime it requires students to subscribe to, with a related hashtag on the microblogging platform Weibo receiving nearly 50 million views.

    Peking University began offering the course in 2022, with students allowed to select it as one of their compulsory PE classes. It is only open to students with a BMI above 25 — or, in other words, that are overweight.

    Liang Chuyu, a senior studying media and communications at Peking University, signed up for the class last year. At the start of the course, every student did a thorough physical examination that measured their weight, BMI, and muscle content, she told Sixth Tone.

    They were then asked to develop a personal weight loss plan, and split into groups. Each student was required to update their fellow group members on their exercise record every day, allowing them to monitor each other’s progress.

    Over the following weeks, the students attended regular exercise classes and lectures on health and nutrition. In one class, teachers took the students to the canteen to explain to them which dishes were the most calorific.

    After joining the course, Liang signed up for a gym membership and began running almost every day. She also began to monitor her calorie intake to make sure it didn't exceed her daily limit.

    By the end of the class, Liang had lost around 6 kilograms. Most of her male classmates, who accounted for two-thirds of the students on the course, lost even more, she said.

    The students’ final evaluation was based on the amount of weight they had lost, as well as how well they had stuck to their plan. Each group was required to present a report documenting their individual progress.

    Not every grade was based directly on the number of kilograms lost, Liang said. Some students set other goals, such as a reduction in muscle mass or body fat percentage, and were assessed on those metrics instead.

    Liang ended up getting full marks. “I’m the kind of student who cares a lot about grades, so I strictly adhered to my plan,” she said. “Because I knew that this thing was linked to my grades, I took it really seriously.”

    Liang said she signed up for the class because she wanted to improve her performance in the university’s mandatory physical fitness test, which includes a BMI assessment. She also wanted to enhance her health and physical appearance.

    “Many classmates may be attending the class for the purpose of improving their health, not just to look good,” said Liang. “The atmosphere in my school is quite friendly, so no one will laugh at you for choosing this class.”

    In fact, the class has become hugely popular at Peking University, forcing the university to select students via a lottery system. Many students had complained about failing to secure a space, Liang said.

    The course appears to be popular mainly due to its effectiveness. According to university data, one-third of the students who complete the class lose over 5% of their body weight. One student set a record last year by losing 15 kilograms.

    Liang said that she had found it useful to have weight loss explained in a scientific way. Her previous attempts at dieting had always felt unsustainable, she said.

    “I think the class is actually quite necessary, because I’ve tried a DIY approach myself and … it’s quite easy to make mistakes when trying to lose weight,” she said. “If there’s a teacher to explain the principles behind it, it’s more effective.”

    Zhang Xiaoyuan, one of the instructors leading the class, told domestic media that the goal was to educate students about dieting and fitness.

    “About 70% of students who fail the physical fitness test are overweight or obese. For these students, the most effective remedy is a combination of exercise and dieting,” said Zhang. “Weight loss is a science, and it’s not just about self-discipline. It’s not just about the numbers on the scale.”

    The reaction to Peking University’s class on social media has largely been positive, with many commenters saying they hoped other universities would set up similar programs.

    This is likely because students’ lack of physical fitness has become a hot topic in China in recent years. Last year, there was something of a moral panic about so-called “crispy skin college students” — or young people who had no time for exercise at high school and arrive at university in a poor physical state.

    According to data from the Ministry of Education, approximately 30% of the country’s 1.15 million college students did not meet its physical health standards in 2020.

    Other Chinese colleges offering weight loss courses include Beijing Technology University, Tianjin University, and East China University of Political Science and Law.

    (Header image: A screenshot shows students do exercises during the weight loss courses. From Weibo)