“It’s no use, they’ll compensate it afterwards”

Maxim: all university programs should include mandatory physical activities


While the number of overweight people is growing dramatically and the Dutch parliament came to no conclusion at all in its obesity debate last week, this might be the solution: oblige all Dutch university students to take part in a three-hour physical activity class per week. Problem solved. Or not?



“I disagree with the maxim”, says Kathleen Moss from Baylor University Texas, who is taking business marketing classes in Maastricht. “It has been my observation that most Dutch students walk or ride a bicycle to almost every destination. They’re gaining healthy exercise by simply living their normal lives. Overall, health is more about having a healthy lifestyle and including health into your everyday activities than scheduling a forced time for exercise. Adding another course requirement to the already full university schedule would not be beneficial to the student.”

Neely Guthrie, also from Baylor, thinks the university has a responsibility to the students to provide sufficient resources for exercise, such as a gym and various club activities. “But this should not be a requirement.”

“Most students will underline the statement: the less mandatory, the better. That’s why I don’t think it will work”, answers Dutch Robbert Kösters, chair of the MUSST sports council. He plays football with the Maastricht student club, the Red Socks. “The university should create all kinds of sport possibilities that are not too expensive, and that are accessible for everyone.” But he argues that exercise is not the only answer to overweight. “It also has to do with your lifestyle. And you can’t tell anyone what they should or should not eat in the cafeteria or buy at the supermarket.”

Dutch Femke Rutter investigated how genetics, behaviour and hormones influence the body weight of 0–17-year-olds for her PhD dissertation. Her main conclusion: sleep deprivation causes obesity in children. She agrees that losing weight doesn’t come down to exercise alone. And more so, she thinks the effect of exercise on an individual’s weight is much less than that of changes in eating patterns. “You can eat 1000 calories in 10 minutes, but it will take you much longer to burn that amount of calories.” Mandatory exercise will not make students slimmer, she says. “It’s no use – they’ll compensate for it by sitting on the couch when they get home. With some bad luck, accompanied by a bag of crisps. A good example is the overweight children in my research group: they’re still in primary school so they have gym classes. But after school they’re less active than their thinner peers, and they eat more.”




Cleo Freriks and Wendy Degens

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