With childhood obesity a national concern, perhaps it was only a matter of time before a school offered a scholarship for students based not on athletics or academics but on achieving a healthy weight.
A new Utah charter school and a Kaysville gym are partnering to offer scholarships over the next couple of years based on body mass index (BMI), an indicator of body fat based on height and weight. The college scholarships will eventually go to students at Baer Canyon High, a charter school slated to open in the fall with a mission of focusing on medical and sports science, in addition to traditional curriculum.
At least one scholarship will go to the Baer Canyon student whose BMI improves most between enrollment and graduation. Another scholarship will go to the student whose family, collectively, most improves their BMIs between the student's enrollment and graduation.
"It takes a similar commitment to develop your body and health as it would to develop your mind or any other talent or skill," said Joel Barrow, general manager of the private, for-profit Kaysville SportsPlex gym, which is providing the scholarships. "That seems to be fair cause to reward somebody for their efforts." Baer Canyon, which will open in the fall in the same facility as the gym, will pay the gym to share some staff, and the school will be allowed to use some of the gym's equipment and fields as part of its lease agreement, said Ryan Lunt, chairman of the Baer Canyon School Board.
Baer Canyon students will get free gym memberships and their families will be eligible for free memberships until August and discounted memberships after that.
Dawn Stevenson, a coordinator for K-12 school counseling and career awareness at the state Office of Education, said she has never heard of another scholarship specifically targeting students who improve their BMIs.
A broad search for scholarships available to Utah students on UtahFutures.org produces more than 1,000 scholarship possibilities everything from a scholarship for students who bowl to an award for students who are descendants of Confederate soldiers. But nothing for students who lose weight.
"Considering the focus of their school, I think it's a nice promotion," Stevenson said. "It seems consistent with what they've described as the school mission."
Lunt said he and the gym are hoping the scholarship helps get the word out about the school. He said the school will start with grades 10 and 11 this fall and will add a 12th grade in 2012. He said he expects about 500 students to enroll next school year. Charter schools are independently run public schools.
Lunt said his own recent experiences taught him about the importance of developing healthy habits early on. He said about a year ago, his doctor diagnosed him with Type 2 diabetes and told him he needed to change some of his habits.
But Lunt didn't know much about nutrition and wasn't sure where to start. He said he hopes the school and scholarship inspire students to live healthy lifestyles from a young age.
"I thought, 'Man, what an opportunity for students to learn this day in and day out in a high school setting,' " said Lunt, adding that he has lost 75 pounds since. "You live healthy, you live all the things you're learning in school and you're going to be rewarded with a scholarship."
Nationally, nearly 32 percent of children ages 6 to 19 are overweight or obese, according to government data, and last year first lady Michelle Obama started a Let's Move! initiative aimed at solving the problem of obesity within a generation.
According to a 2009 report by the Trust for America's Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Utah had the lowest percentage of overweight and obese children ages 10-17 in the nation in 2007 at 23.1 percent.
Barrow said the gym is still working out details of the scholarships, such as how many will be available and which kids would be eligible to apply, because not all students should lose weight. He said the gym may also offer other types of scholarships.
Fitness and nutrition specialists with the gym and school will be available to help those interested in pursuing the BMI scholarships, which Barrow said will be $3,000 each.
To be eligible, students would have to enroll at Baer Canyon full time for at least two years before graduation and have their BMIs measured by gym or school staff when they enroll. They also must plan to enroll in college full-time within three years of high school graduation. Students must also have at least a 3.0 grade point average.
Body Mass Index
To calculate body mass index (BMI) and BMI-for-age percentile for your child or teen go to http://bit.ly/brBSIS. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, although BMI numbers are calculated the same way for children and adults, the criteria used to interpret the meanings of those numbers are different for children and teens.
Baer Canyon High School
To learn more about Baer Canyon High School go to http://www.baercanyon.org. The high school will hold a series of informational meetings in March. Dates and locations of those meetings are on the Baer Canyon High School page on Facebook.